Financier Mellody Hobson and her husband, Star Wars movie mogul George Lucas, are taking steps to take control of Ebony and Jet’s massive archive of historic photos, chronicling African-American life over the last seven decades.
The archive is uninsured and at risk, as it was used as collateral to secure a $12 million loan to the magazines’ former owner—the now-bankrupt Johnson Publishing—from Capital Holdings V, a company Hobson and Lucas control.
In bankruptcy court filings Wednesday in Chicago, Capital Holdings sought to foreclose on the archive, saying it feared damage to the archive and not being repaid by Johnson Publishing.
“The Johnson Publishing archives are an essential part of American history and have been critical in telling the extraordinary stories of African American culture for decades,” the company said in a statement Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come.”
Johnson Publishing, which sold its magazines three years ago, has been trying unsuccessfully to sell its photo archives for more than four years. It filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this month.
However, Johnson Publishing may not give up its archives without a fight.
Capital Holdings’ request to foreclose on the archive must be approved by a bankruptcy judge and could be challenged by the chapter 7 trustee now in charge of Johnson Publishing’s assets. The trustee, lawyer Miriam Stein, said in an email Wednesday that she has been working to secure insurance for Johnson Publishing’s assets and opposes the lenders’ request to foreclose on the archive.
“I believe that the archives have significant value and should be sold through the bankruptcy case as opposed to being foreclosed upon by the lender,” Ms. Stein said.
The archive contains five million photos and was valued at $40 million five years ago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
It includes iconic images of African American life and history, including history-makers like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nelson Mandela, as well images from the funeral of Emmett Till, and that of a veiled Coretta Scott King and her children at MLK’s funeral.