Chicago-based Johnson Publishing sold its magazine portfolio Ebony and Jet three years ago and has been trying to sell its photo archives since 2015. That year, the expansive collection was appraised at $46 million.
The archives have everything from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sammy Davis Jr. in more than 4 million original images. The collection includes a 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of King’s widow and child, taken at his funeral, as well as iconic photos of such historic African-American figures as baseball great Hank Aaron, boxing champion Muhammad Ali, civil rights leader Malcolm X and former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
But now the 70 years’ worth of Black history is set to go on the auction block the week of July 15, pending approval from a Chicago federal bankruptcy court, according to the Chicago Tribune. Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April.
Johnson Publishing started Ebony in 1954, reporting from the front lines of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Opening bids for the collection are expected to start at about $13 million and the proceeds will go to paying off secured creditors of Johnson Publishing, George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, whose company, Capital V Holdings, issued a $12 million loan to a struggling Johnson Publishing in 2015.
“This is a great opportunity … to rescue this archive and find a way to both preserve and display this very important vision of American history,” Gabe Fried, CEO of Hilco Streambank, told the Chicago Tribune. Hilco Streambank is conducting the auction on behalf of the bankruptcy trustee.
Hobson and Lucas will get the collection in foreclosure if no other bidder steps up.
But it doesn’t look like there will be a short list of bidders. Fried told the Chicago Tribune that large corporations, museums, celebrities, and athletes have all reached out to him about bidding on the collection.