Johnson Publishing Sells A Legacy

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After spending last year grappling with the appropriation of hip-hop and street style, it looks like our history is up for sale as well. In attempts to raise much-needed funds, Johnson Publishing, home to the (now exclusively online) Jet and Ebony magazines, is selling their entire photo archive for a whopping $40 million. Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing and former White House Social Secretary says, “It’s just sitting here. We really need to monetize that in order to ensure growth in our core businesses.”



I have this running joke about how no one loves a stock photo more than Johnson Publishing. It’s as if every moment of Black American life from 1945 to today has been documented and archived by the company. Totaling upwards of 5 million images, the archive is a visual griot overflowing with stories of who’ve we been, the moments we fell, and the triumphs we’ve gained. These photos served as a mirror the horrors of America and injected black people into fabric of this country. Johnson Publishing was also home to legendary photographers Gordon Parks and Moneta Sleet.


Sure, these photos are monetarily valuable, but how does one put a price tag on history, especially one that means a measly $8 per photo? Sleet’s “Deep Sorrow”  is easily one of the most recognizable and powerful pictures taken in America’s relatively short life. To put this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo on the auction block at such a price is nothing short of a sick joke. Heiress to Johnson Publishing, Linda Johnson Rice sees the archive, once sold, as the black version of asset monster Getty Images. That sounds lovely, but this public sale means that the archive could potentially land in the hands of someone looking to sell it for a major profit with no regard for how culturally important they are.


Rogers is adamant about this sale, disgustingly so, but all is not lost. The Schomburg Center in Harlem would make the perfect home for the archive. Already serving as the mecca of documented black American history, the acquisition of these images would not only be a major enhancement to the Schomburg, but would ensure that these images will live on for future generations. Thanks to the maafa, we’ve lost our language, religion, and our names. In a time when black people in this country are now struggling to hold on to our culture and remain the authors of our own story, it is important that the Johnson Publishing archive stay in our hands. I don’t happen to have $40 million laying around, but as a collective unit, we absolutely have the power to raise the money and bring these precious artifacts home where they belong.

This entry was posted in Art & Culture, Featured.