Dear Johnson Publishing Company, About Selling Your Photo Archives

I had to write this sternly-worded letter because NAWL!

Dear Johnson Publishing Company,

I read a story in the Chicago Tribune called “Johnson Publishing to sell historic photo archive” and I had to write you a letter because my spirit was bothered. I posted it on Facebook and everyone did a collective *wall slide*. According to that article, you’re considering selling your photo archives to raise some capital for the company. There are 5 million pictures and you’re hoping to get $40 million for them. That is $8 per picture. EIGHT DOLLARS.

Can we talk about this? CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? We need to, because this is not ok and I am here to panic about it and ask some questions.

First of all, the value of the entire archive was appraised at $40 million and y’all accepted it? 5 million images of Black icons and Black history, which includes a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Coretta Scott King at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral is worth $40 million? Michael Jackson paid $48 million for The Beatles’ music catalogue, which included like 260 of their songs. And 5 million pics that chronicled some of the most memorable moments in 20th century Black history is being put up for less than that? Yup. I’m pretty offended.

Flip Laptop

Who appraised this collection? Why are they a hater? And why do I feel like this price is basically a dropkick to our legacy? It’s like a clearance sale on our history and I am side-eying everyone involved. This is a literal de-valuing of our history.

Let me move past that for a second and talk about the motive behind this sale. Desiree Rogers, JPC’s CEO is quoted as saying “It’s just sitting here. We really need to monetize that in order to ensure growth in our core businesses.”

“It’s just sitting there.” What are the pictures supposed to be doing instead of “just sitting there?” Should they sing while in the boxes collecting dust? Why are they just sitting there? Why are they hidden? Why are they not in a museum already being displayed for the masses? Why isn’t there a photography exhibit curated by Johnson Publishing Company, charging people to come see moments in time captured award-winning photographers over the years? Why aren’t these pics being used on the EBONY website as a weekly feature? WHY ARE THEY JUST SITTING THERE?

Coretta Scott King EBONY

You know what was just “sitting there” too? Brownstones in Brooklyn in 1992. I bet the people who sold those then are pissed right now.

I understand that times are hard, but print has been dying for so many years. It is a well-known fact that those who stay relevant are the ones who adapt and evolve. As someone looking in from afar, I see JPC lagging behind in evolving as a media brand. Jet Magazine already folded their print edition and are now strictly online (which, is fine). EBONY is still printing monthly (thankfully) but I don’t see the magazine pushing the digital presence or the digital presence pushing the magazine. They seem to operate as 2 very different entities. Is there an EBONY iPad app that people can have paid subscriptions to?

Selling something as valuable as your photo archive because of an immediate need for cash feels short-sighted, especially since photos like this will only appreciate with time. Letting them go now for a sudden influx of cash can’t be a good long-term strategy to sustain the company. Because in 5 years, what else will you need to liquidate to stay afloat? PLUS, that archive is worth way more.

I know this was probably not an easy decision for the JPC staff but I have to ask these questions.

Have you tried licensing the images out on a grand scale to a major institution to use, like the Schomburg or the Smithsonian or the DuSable Museum? 

Have you tried selling prints of these images so people can hang them up in their houses? I’d also love to rock a tshirt of Eartha Kitt serving FIERCE side-eye. That’s an option.

Have you considered creating a company like Getty, where people can purchase rights to use some of the images?

Do we need to kickstarter y’all some funds? What do you need to stay functioning without relinquishing your rights to these iconic images?

Have you considered partnering with someone like Nichelle Gainer, author of the book Vintage Black Glamour?


I’m just asking because, again, there has to be a way for you to make these pics work for you and generate income for you without letting go of them completely. THERE’S GOTTA BE!

Johnson Publishing Company, I am Keith Sweat begging you not to sell your entire photo archives, especially not for pennies and not to whoever brings you the most money. PLEASE BABY BABY PLEASE! This sucks because Black people already lack ownership of so many things and the idea that one of the biggest Black legacy companies is about to sell such important mementos makes my heart sad.

5 million pictures for $40 million. Again, that is $8 per picture. *wall slides* I wouldn’t be so concerned if I knew it would be sold to another Black-owned entity either. Can our images not go to the highest bidder, but to an entity that will honor them? Can they be owned by people who look like the ones in the pictures? Can we keep this in-house, JPC? I’m so sick of us selling our things to others. SO SICK.

WHY do Black millionaires and Black billionaires of today not create a club or trust where they collect Black art that can then be leased out? And they ALL get the revenue from it collectively? Why do we always get to the point where we’re selling our images and allowing others to control how our faces are used (and abused)? If these pics get sold to a white-owned entity, iSweaterGAWD I’m going to be SO. DAMB. MADDDDD.

Angry Tom gif

Lawd, if they sell it to some corporation who doesn’t give a damb and I see a picture of Dorothy Dandridge hawking mayonnaise, I’ll be forced to give everyone atomic wedgies. Because NAWL.

Desiree Rogers also said: “One of the things that we’ve learned is we need to stick with what we’re good at. We’re writers, we’re creative folks, we produce a magazine … geared toward that African-American experience. Let’s stick as close to that as we can.” 

Soooo the reason this sale should make sense is because this isn’t the lane JPC is occupying right now? This all sounds rushed and like you’re hustling backwards, JPC and that’s a shame. Our cultural legacy is worth so much more than $40 million. We cannot keep selling to the highest bidder, and if keeping an organized archive of 5 million pictures is not what JPC is great at, outsource it. Chicago, JPC headquarters, does not have a shortage of resources for this type of thing, with the University of Chicago, the DuSable Museum and with a history that is rich in Black art and culture. I mean, DAMB. If Beyonce can have a full-time archivist, surely JPC can.

Jacksons EBONY Mag

There’s another way. There’s got to be, and people are willing to help you figure out what those options are. You can even contact art curator and expert, Janice Bond. She can help you figure out other options. She’s a Black woman who’s worked internationally to curate pieces owned by us. Ask her and others in her field what to do so you can exhaust ALL OTHER possibilities. Because how did we get here? Nobody’s sposed to be here.

We have nice things but this is why we can’t keep them. Please reconsider. Because today’s cash flow is tomorrow’s lost history. This is reducing so much of our history into a monetary transaction and we’ve done that enough. Don’t do it, Miss Celie. It ain’t worth it!



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  1. milaxx
    January 24, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    This is heartbreaking to hear.

  2. coop
    January 24, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Can we start a twitter hashtag on this?
    Can we get the Divine 9 involved in this?
    The Schomberg (sp) Museum?
    Surely there can be something done rather than relinquishing these iconic photos. Thank you. Let’s keep pushing this issue.

  3. Wendyful
    January 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Bill Cosby, step up. DON’T remain silent on this too.

    • Pat
      January 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Actually at this time, I would prefer that Bill Cosby NOT purchase the collection. If any of the allegations against him turn into civil lawsuits, and the women win, the collection could end up being liquidated to settle the judgment – which could put the collection’s future back in limbo. Even if he purchased it, and attempted to donate it to an organization, would anyone accept the gift at the present time?

      Hopefully Earvin Johnson, Michael Jordan and some others can step up, make the purchase, and hopefully help with the preservation of the archives – perhaps as an endowment for UNCF with the input of NABJ.

      • Bentheredonethat
        January 25, 2015 at 1:19 pm

        Did you suggest Michael Jordan use any of his capital to the furtherance of black American interests. LOLOLOL. He just wants us to keep buying his tired ass shoes. MJ hasn’t ever done ANYTHING but line his pockets. Maybe Oprah will step up.

        • S Emm
          January 26, 2015 at 1:02 pm

          I chuckled at that too. MJ isn’t worried about the preservation of black culture.

    • mahki
      January 25, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Great letter! Great suggestions! Bill Cosby, please take this opportunity. Desiree has no clue what she is doing. 8$ per pic. Hog naw! Isn’t Desiree married to John Rogers the investment whizkid? Certainly, he knows the value of that historical intellectual property.

  4. January 24, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Nodded my head the WHOLE post! It broke my heart when I read they were putting these images up for sale. I agree with all of the suggestions you made. My first thought was museum!!! Hello! Man, I couldn’t agree with this post more. If TLC can use kickstarter for their album, surely JPC could do the same to help them keep hope alive. I, for one, would love to rock a t-shirt or four wearing these historic images.

  5. Selena
    January 24, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Awesomely Luvvie, I appreciate you. All I can do is Smh and pray they listen to you trying to stop them from making a huge mistake. This scares me because what if our history is sold to a person or person’s who only wants to destroy our history or making it so that we will never see it again? Maybe I’m being paranoid but I hope JPC reads this article and reconsider this hasty decision.

  6. Kimberly
    January 24, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Former JPC employee here. Just FYI, your assessment of $8/photo assumes that all of the photos represent icons or history; they don’t. Many are just stock photos that have little or no economic value. We are talking about just about alllll of the photos that have ever appeared in the pages of the magazines (except the digital images).
    That said, I do believe that $40 million is a low valuation.

    Moreover, they have been selling prints for the past year or so, but clearly that hasn’t caught on.

    As for the other suggestions, places like DuSable and U of C do not have the resources to handle something of this magnitude.

    Hopefully, they will find someone who can honor the images and the legacy.

    • AnonAgathist
      January 24, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      It’s truly unfortunate, but you are absolutely correct that the DuSable Museum is not equipped to purchase or care for these images. I can think of no better place for this collection of African American history and culture than another institution of African American history, especially one based in Chicago. But the DuSable is not that place for many reasons.

      I would hope that the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. would step in to acquire some of the images. For any museum (especially one as new and important as NMAAHC), this collection is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If not NMAAHC, I also think the Chicago History Museum would be a good fit. The story of the Johnson Publishing Company is not only a piece of black history but Chicago history as well. CHM also curated the exhibit on the Ebony Fashion Fair, which should be to the museum’s advantage.

      Wherever the collection ends up, I hope that the new owners will be better stewards of our historical legacy than Mrs. Rogers and the current decision makers at JPC have proven to be. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking how disappointed Moneta Sleet, Mr. John Johnson, and Eunice Johnson would be to hear this news.

      • February 2, 2015 at 7:45 am

        I absolutely agree with you re: NMAAHC – especially given heavy JPC and Chicago influence in new museum – see Johnson-Rice and Lonnie Bunch roles

        The thing that confuses me about this is that the company has been trying to market photographs and old issues in a sustainable way through – are they just not making enough money off of this?

        Finally, seems pretty ironic that this is coming about at the same moment at the new Schomburg collection #speakingofpeople is documenting the real impact JPC had on the lives of artists and readers over the past 60 years

        • James West
          February 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

          Sorry, meant to say #speakingofpeople at the Studio Museum (although it should go to Schomburg afterwards!)

    • Naya'Hri
      January 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Perhaps maybe even the Harvey B Gantt center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC, could acquire some of the images. That would be a good fit.

  7. January 24, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    “Have you considered creating a company like Getty, where people can purchase rights to use some of the images?” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. ucity88
    January 24, 2015 at 5:54 pm


    The “stock” photos should be split from the Big Deal photos and either given to the Library of Congress or set up under a licensing corporation. And the Big Deal Photos? Not NEVER sell those.

    P.S. Thanks for some insight, Kimberly (formerly of JPC).

  9. Jenna R. Hatton-Cobb
    January 24, 2015 at 5:58 pm


    Us Too

  10. Enneirda07
    January 24, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Between this and the King children in court over selling Dr. Martin L. King’s Nobel Prize and bible, I’m sooooooooooo disappointed in “us”.
    Ebony financial problems are caused by them falling behind the times and poor customer service (like just receiving the December issue today). So if and when this collection does sell, this won’t help their falling sales and profits. This move is just a band aid on a bullet wound.

    • Laughinlola
      January 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      I so agree about the wrongness of selling away or things and rights. The self actions of a few hurts every member of our society.Those who contribute or go along with the dishonoring of our heritage are weak of mind and heart. Some are just plain lazy and feel entitled to property that belongs to the Race.
      The Antique Road Show reminds me of how our ancestors arrived on these shores(naked in slave ships stacked-up, chained-up and thrown out to sea if they did not survive the voyage. Those who did make it to land suffered atrocities that made the souls of those who became bait, sing to the heavens in gratefulness for their escape. The bondage that lasted over 300 years! So we have no antiques handed down through hundreds of generations. We will not find forgotten treasures in our attic.

      Now we are to devalue our chronicled struggles, heart won victories for pennies on a dollar. How can anyone conceive of placing a price tag on the history of a people and culture? Where is the ethical responsibility to those who created the history and most importantly our future generations. We have all experienced the misrepresentation or absence of our history in the national educational system.

      We the people charge Johnson Publishing Company and the children of Martin and Coretta King, Jr with the preservation of our history. To start working to help maximize our efforts to over throw those organizations and individuals who are committed to harming us further i.e., Koch brothers, ALEC, The Supreme Court Conservative Justices whom continue to prey on our people. Through the dismantling Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its Amendments i.e., voting, employment, and housing. through discrimination, police brutality, unjust prosecution, and purposeful disenfranchisement. To justice that is not equal but tilted towards those who continue to persecute us. Sell them what? Black History and lives Matter!

  11. January 24, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    I adore you!!! Thank you for all you do!

  12. PGL
    January 24, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Luvvie, everything you said here & then some. You should pitch them your ideas, they are great!

  13. Kenzi
    January 24, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    jokes aside, this is one of the reason I follow you and your work Ms Luvvie. I think your suggestions for other things they could do are awesome and I know I wouldn’t have had any suggestions but with your wealth of knowledge you did. I think they are viable, better and I hope someone at JPC takes notice

  14. January 24, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I need the Johnson Publishing Company and every other black person with a little bit of a name or prestige with NO sense (I’m talking to you Bernice, Dexter & Trey (Martin III) King!) to STAHP vying for a position on #TeamBadDecisions! Why can’t ANY of them just go to Oprah and try to sell the photo collection, or anything else valuable that they clearly don’t know how to handle, to the African-American Smithsonian so these photos will at least be on display somewhere! UGH!

  15. SIPort
    January 24, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    ALL SORTS OF AMEN to this, Luvvie.

    How come Black folks always sell their stuff for PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR?

    any of the ideas you came up with make more sense than selling the collection.

    Makes no sense.

    Selling off the collection is wrong – period. Selling it off for pennies on the dollar is RIDICULOUS.

  16. Kenya
    January 24, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Whitley Marion Gilbert did not go to Hillman for an extra year for JPC to do this to her career as a corporate art buyer!

    All jokes aside, I agree with every word you wrote! It would be a travesty to let those photos go to someone who doesn’t give two flying eff’s about me and mine!

    • steph
      January 24, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      Have they published a photo book? Can they publish a photo book. They should definitely publish a photo book!

      I agreed with every point and the one that stuck out the most to me was about Ebony’s struggle of combining with a social media presence. Unlike other magazines, they seem to want to stay in the dark of social media and have no mind to have a presence. I remember when I first started on Tumblr and found they had a site where they would post old photos and covers. They seemed to be posting at a decent rate. I have had my site for about 3 yrs now and I haven’t seen them post anything since. JPC selling these archives does not really seem to be a necessity but more of a make-up to mistakes.

    • steph
      January 24, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      And yes, Whitley definitely did not stay in Hillman an extra year for this. That is a perfect comment for how important this is!

    • Bukky
      January 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      “Whitley Marion Gilbert (Wayne) did not go to Hillman for an extra year for JPC to do this to her career as a corporate art buyer!”

      THANK YOU!!! If they’re not doing it for us living folks do it for Whitley!!!

  17. astralgirl01
    January 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    This further proves that Desiree Rogers is beyond a flop. Such poor advice… the Johnsons should be ignoring her advice!

  18. astralgirl01
    January 24, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    EVERYONE!! Please go and post this article on the JPC contact page immediately! They need to know what a mistake they’re making!

  19. Monnie
    January 24, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    The Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh had a MAJOR archive of photos taken by a local photographer in the Pittsburgh area over the course of 50+ years and it was amazing! One of the Facebook groups that I belong to displays these pictures due to the diligence of one of the group members and provides much joy to all that belong. Can you imagine the kind of reaction these photos would get if they were gathered in one place and anyone could view them or purchase copyright permissions? I have family members who appeared in Jet over the years and I would personally pay to permission to reprint these photos. Don’t be so dang hasty, JPC.

  20. dynamitesoul
    January 24, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    They need to consult Google as to their process of scanning books, and do what big G did. They need to consult Omar Wasow (creator of Black Planet) and maybe Danyel Smith or Jamala Johns. They need to consult erybody. We got enough talent amongst us to figure this out!

  21. […] selling its storied archive of African American images with the hope of getting $40 million (that’s about $8 per image, thanks Luvvie), I immediately thought of Hurricane […]

    • January 25, 2015 at 6:41 am

      I just read your article and your personal experience there at JPC really put it all in perspective, and the cavalier attitude toward legacy preservation is real! It seems that since Linda Johnson-Rice took over, this is the direction of the company, purely profit-driven, with little to no concern for community, legacy, or history. Won’t be long before there’s a huge fire sale over there.

      “Everything must go at rock-bottom prices, including your soul!” A little dramatic, but this makes me angry.

  22. Sheryse
    January 25, 2015 at 4:02 am

    There is nothing left to add to this except to say, “Amen.”

  23. Bruce Tyler
    January 25, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Please try to get a major museum to purchase your archives.

  24. Christie
    January 25, 2015 at 8:29 am

    You just don’t go sell pieces of history like a Buy It Now auction on Ebay.
    As for the King children, perhaps they missed the ‘peace’ part of the Nobel Peace Prize…

  25. shalema
    January 25, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I agree with you 100%. It would be tragic to lose these treasures, especially for such a low price, only to have JPC end up back in this same place in a few years. I also believe that if we don’t want our prized institutions to make such desperate decisions, going forward we need to support them through purchase (consistently), subscriptions and membership. We we don’t support each other this is what cam happen. When was the last time any of us purchased a copy of Ebony Magazine? To be honest it’s been months since I did. But the next newsstand I pass I most certainly will.

  26. January 25, 2015 at 10:05 am

    My one question is whether anybody is using or exploiting the collection now. If they are sitting, archived and nobody can see them, that’s a shame. Are there buyers who could, even if for commercial purposes, get these treasures circulating?

  27. Mary Burrell
    January 25, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Our peoples legacy and history are being sold so cheaply to people who give zero damns about black folks. SMH.

  28. January 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

    So many good suggestions here. I hope that JPC will listen.

  29. ucity88
    January 25, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Well now…we see how they really are at JPC…Mr. Johnson would not have approved of that behavior, I hope…

  30. Ktzmiao
    January 25, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I know Desiree is Ivy-League and all that but I’m starting to wonder what exactly was in the koolaide she drank,,, if Luvvie and all the Luvette’s can create viable business alternatives within days of hearing about her shenanigans,,, which class did she miss? Will they listen? The arriviste? I do not know,,, there is a certain amount of hubris on painful display here.

  31. January 25, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    To whom this may concern: Let’s get right to the point, I am a 71 year old black man and I have been buying products from you all practically all my life. Now I have seen things like this over and over again, and it always end up falling into the wrong hands. And I think you know who I’m talking about. Would you all please reconsider this. For some reason or another, it seems like black people don’t think anymore. We are allowing our history to slip away. It’s time to put a stop to that. I think it would be foolish if you all do not reconsider this. Thank you!

  32. January 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    By selling off our historical archives shows that they are not on the side of reality, or of preserving our documented history. Do not sell-out, perhaps create a Ebony photo agency could be formed…like Getty / Corbis, etc…I think they could save a ton of money (and maybe pay out bonuses) if they moved from their Michigan Avenue offices? I hope they’re reading and listening to OUR advise.

  33. Abdul Kareem Sharif
    January 25, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Why don’t they donate their archive to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

  34. notconvincedgranny
    January 25, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I was over and done with the Johnson Publishing “Empire” a long time ago. Willing to accept pennies for something priceless in order to maintain garbage. Backward ass thinking rears up again, no pun intended.

  35. Dee
    January 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Luvvie, thank you so very much for your post of love and concern!
    I have just sent my e-mail to the Johnson Publishing Company to let them know that this is one under-thought-through idea that needs a serious re-think.
    Please can all of us who share similar feelings consider doing the same!

  36. cb
    January 25, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Essence anyone? and where is LaToya in that pic?

  37. david
    January 25, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Well researched and well thought piece, Luvvie. I enjoyed reading your point of view. Just wish you had spelled DAMN the right way since you have influence…but I’m nitpicking! You write, girl!

  38. January 25, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Thank You for this. Its so selfish to the highest bidder there so many museums that could use this as an exhibit there’s so many people that need to see our history including our own people!

  39. RP1496
    January 25, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    It seems that JPC is taking advice from Dr. King’s sons. I don’t understand selling off history for what is likely to be a short term profit.
    I agree with everything said here! Ridiculous!!!

    January 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Awesomely Lovvie…your recommendations are on point. JCP should contract with you to help them strategize on how to capitalize and leverage the goldmine they currently own and now concerning to give away.

    We must support our Black businesses. As it relates to JPC, I’m willing to donate to a fund to save JPC’s Photo Archives. JPC…please set up the campaign!

  41. Janine
    January 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Sadly I doubt if either the DuSable or the Schomberg have the resources for this. Black cultural institutions, as a rule, do not have the deep pockets of major white ones–even the fabulous Alvin Ailey has had to do some serious stepping to stay solvent and whole.

    But, yes, plenty of black billionaires hot-footing around. (I’m looking at you Beyonce and Jay.)

    There is also the DuBois (actually not called that anymore because they sold it out but I shall pretend) Institute at Harvard. Harvard ain’t close to being black-owned, true, but Skip Gates can round up some serious cash when he wants to. Call him.

  42. January 25, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    This is why we CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

  43. January 25, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I actually thought about the JPC museum years ago when they sold the building to Columbia College. It is such a tragedy to see such a historical entity buckling under financial pressure due to a lack of vision and knowledge by its leadership.

    They could license the images or create coffee table books. People who love black history would snatch these up and they could sell them to schools for their history classes. There are so many overlooked opportunities for the sake of a quick buck.

    And what about relationships with the elites they rub elbows with. Can’t they do some deals that would allow them to keep the collection and not be indebted to them?

  44. jink
    January 25, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Desiree Rogers, JPC’s CEO apparently has not a clue about her job. The quote you gave of her statements solidified that fact to me. Whether its ‘stock’ photos of ‘average’ black people or photos of historical events, the collection is WAYYYY undervalued.
    How many ‘appraisers’ did Johnson Publishing use? the guy from Pawn Show in vegas? cause he’s the only one who would come up with that number!

    Yes, i’m disappointed too. I’m getting sick and tired of black business (and certain people-MLK’s kids specifically) of this ‘the organization needs money so that’s why we selling’ routine. Try cutting your salary? Try a whole lotta OTHER things rather than selling the one thing you have OF value. This is as the kids say, really, really shady. So after you sell the collection, then what? once you blow through that $40 mil, and you STILL need money, who are you going to call? J.G. Wenthworth?


    It blows my mind that Johnson publishing is that poorly run. I mean seriously, i stopped reading it 20+ years ago because the writing was bad (my opinion) and the articles were stale, dated and just well, awful and unless you were over 65 and went to a HBCU, you just couldn’t relate to it.

    I hope some group of black investors buys the pics (i’m sure some white group will) and makes a billion dollars off them. just to show the execs at JOHNSON that no one should hire them to open the mail because they are just too damn incompetent.

  45. Franko
    January 25, 2015 at 9:30 pm


  46. franko
    January 25, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    That was not to be addressed to you LUVVV

  47. Annette
    January 25, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Johnston Publishing Company needs to get someone in to work with what they have. Why sell it to someone else who will make money over and over again cause they can’t get it together. That is probably why the company is having issues. The old way of doing thing aren’t working be more creative. How come someone in the company isn’t coming up with idea that Luvvie is suggesting.

    Once again not valuing what we have and created. SMH just crazy.

  48. John Posey
    January 26, 2015 at 1:41 am

    I am from Chicago originally. I dealt with Johnson Publishing a great deal in my professional life. I have been there and I have been in the archives…I also know Linda and Desiree. They have already sold the company to the devil; Chase’s venture capital arm owns 40% of JP. You are on point in so many ways…..This auction is a short-term solution to long-term mismanagement…They have done nothing to license or market their images. They have not mounted any exhibitions…They have not digitized their slides and negatives…They have done nothing….$40 million is way under value for this asset….Why not meet with a consortium of black big money people and see if they will purchase the collection for fair market value and donate it to the Schomburg to manage and market….JP could split revenue with the Schomburg…I guess that makes too much sense for thoe two…

  49. January 26, 2015 at 7:09 am

    $8 an image. Idiots. Complete and total idiots. As a photographer, I a deeply disturbed that they can’t think of a better way to raise money. Hello! How about you put together a traveling exhibit. Who works at this company? This goes to show if you think small, people will treat you that way. They have a CEO that doesn’t even KNOW the value of the archive. What a complete idiot!

  50. January 26, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Can we get a campaign started and get as many signatures as we can to send to Linda Johnson Rice and JPC? We can’t sell our history. Money isn’t everything. Luvvie, you brought up excellent ideas.

  51. Corinthia
    January 26, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Amen! Please don’t sell!!

  52. January 26, 2015 at 8:26 am

    People wake up.
    As I read the article I couldn’t help but think that this is what individuals do in a panic. They try to satisfy an immediate need with a short cited solution. What is being proposed is akin to selling all the pictures of your family that are in that box in the basement so that you can get a sandwich for lunch. What about eating for the rest of your life. There are some really intelligent business people in our community that can figure out how to leverage the millions of family (the images are of my family and your family) photos JPC has so that the income stream far exceeds the $40 million projected if the sell occurs now.

    I would suggest if this was another publishing company representing another culture we would not be having this conversation.

    JPC stop take a deep breath and reassess your options.

  53. nichole
    January 26, 2015 at 9:01 am

    I love the idea of a gallery, museum or tour of these iconic photos traveling across the country..

    Did they ask Oprah? I know she’s one of the go-to’s in the community as is Magic Johnson. But there are others who could surely invest understanding the importance of this archive to not just our history but history in general.

    If TLC and Spike Lee can get a Kickstarter for their projects I’m sure we can get one for this. I would support it.

  54. January 26, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Perfectly stated on all parts and oh so sad! Reminds me of a quote I heard at a play this past weekend, “Do you still go to hell if the devil is dressed up like Jesus”. Yes! Please, Please, Please don’t cut off your nose to spite your face Johnson Publishing! There has to be another way. Black star power and philanthropy is real. Please consider hitting up the following folks to create that Trust and preserve our legacy and precious images:

    Jay Z
    Yasiin Bey
    Bill Cosby
    Black Thought
    Jada and Will
    Don Cheadle
    Jessie Williams
    David Banner
    Van Jones
    Melissa Harris Perry
    Cornell West
    bell hooks
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    Quincy Jones
    Harry Belafonte
    Sidney Poitier
    Erykah Badu
    Queen Latifah

  55. Vanessa
    January 26, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I have to step out of the den of “lurk-dom” on this. THANK YOU, Luvvie. I’m willing to write JPC to support what you’ve said here and I hope others will do the same. I’m inclined to say “Money ain’t everything….” Sure it’s powerful and you can “buy” a lot of THINGS with it, but you can’t put a price on history (especially African American History) and selling off our property for the sake of the almighty dollar diminishes generations with the single stroke of a pen. DON’T DO IT!!!!

  56. LadyLarke
    January 26, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I can’t believe this is actually a “thing”.

    There are so many other ways to gain money from those iconic photos, some Luvvie so wonderfully displayed in her letter. Why do we always have to go straight to selling our posessions in order to stay afloat? Isn’t that what got us in this predicament in the first place?

    I live in DC. About 20 years ago, people didn’t wanna step foot in the city, let alone live there. Brownstones were going for a damb song and a dance. Then the younger white generation began to get involved in urban activities and the Blacks that owned property sold their houses for less than nothing. Now those same houses are worth millions and are occupied by Whites while Blacks were cast out to the suburbs and beyond.

    Shame on these people for selling these photos without considering the alternatives!

    • Bukky
      January 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      That DC thing…man my parents are STILL kicking themselves for not snatching up a few of those MANY houses near HU and the hospital in the LeDroit Park Neighborhood that had fallen by the wayside. Whenever I’m home or visiting my alma mater I cringe at seeing what (and who) lives there now AND for how much those brownstones are going for.

      Hurts my soul just typing about it.

  57. S Emm
    January 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    This is EXACTLY why we can’t have nice things. Just as Luvvie pointed out, this is what happened in NYC too. Brownstones in Harlem and BK were sold in the 90’s/early 2000’s for something like $10K to anyone who should up with a briefcase of cash. Those people went to Home Depot got some paint and are selling those same brownstones for MILLIONS. We love to blame gentrification on the gov’t. And yes they are MAINLY to blame, but a lot of US were quick to sell for a couple thousand.

    And now our neighborhood has been reduced to a quick barista and a cronut….

  58. […] Luvvie wrote exactly what I was thinking when I heard the Johnson Publishing is selling its archive of five million photos for only $40M.  When I was managing the website, Pepsi We Inspire, I discovered that there is a lack of good stock photos of black people. I wanted photos of families, young professionals, couples, seniors.  I even started planning a panel discussion about African American stock photography a few years ago, but it didn’t move past the initial brainstorming phase. We need more images of us in all media. It makes a difference. […]

  59. Nature
    January 28, 2015 at 10:01 am

    The very notion of them doing this told me two things.
    1. The CEO is not a visionary. Period.
    2. They will be out of business in 5 years if they have to sell off all their photos. What else do they own worth that much? How will they use the influx of cash to update and compete digitally?

    This news made me feel two ways.
    1. Sick.
    2. Sad.

  60. mobaygurl
    January 28, 2015 at 10:28 am

    ^^ 100% cosign on the above comment.

  61. […] paid $48 million for the Beatles’ music catalog, which included, like, 260 of their songs," wrote Ajayi. "And five million pics that chronicled some of the most memorable moments in […]

  62. January 29, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Seems like a drastic move. What else does Ebony and Jet have besides those iconic pictures? What is that $40 million supposed to do for them?

  63. Rose
    January 30, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    I found this article via another one on the subject posted on Facebook. You nailed it. Well said all around!

  64. […] morning to find myself tagged in a Facebook post leading to this great imploration published by Awesomely Luvvie. In short, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) is selling 5 million photographs highlighting and […]

  65. February 4, 2015 at 10:26 am

    As an archivist, thank you for writing about this. You are spot on in every respect.

  66. […] Ajayi, creator of the blog and co-founder of the Red Pump Project, wrote an open letter to Johnson Publishing about what she thinks should be done with the collection. She joins us in studio along with Raymond Thomas, a former art director and creative manager for […]

  67. Michael Proebsting
    February 10, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    From a historical stanpoint, it is priceless. From a business standpoint, (someone buying to generate a profit either by selling it off, licensing ect is is a losing proposition). When the Chicago Sun Times sells their entire 22 million negative/photo archive for about 3 million, that will tell you all you need to know about where the “market” is for this.

  68. Colleen
    February 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Thanks for letting out all the anger we are feeling about LJR selling her legacy. I am a former employee of JPC and those of us that knew and loved that organization, the JPC Family of Employees as well as Mr. And Mrs. Johnson recognize the value of those photos.

    If you ask any long timer they will tell you that there was always the expectation that Lindas heart was not there and that’s why ther was never any innovation built from what Mr. J. Left her. Her own daughter has no interest and she appears to want to be rid of it all.

    Now that I’m done venting, my uncle was killed by the men who killed Emmit Till. My family was interviewed in 1954 when it happened. I would like to purchase our photos at $8 bucks a pop if that’s all LJR needs.

  69. […] paid $48 million for the Beatles’ music catalog, which included, like, 260 of their songs,”wrote Ajayi. “And five million pics that chronicled some of the most memorable moments in […]

  70. February 24, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you Luvvie for this! I only recently learned about JPC seeking to sell their photo archive and as someone with a history/museum studies background that is studying to be a professional archivist I am grateful to see people among my generation express interest in the historic photo collection and voice their concern. I am equally concerned about who will assume ownership and where they will end up. I don’t know what JPC’s process was before the appraisal and bringing in Mark Lubell from the International Center of Photography as a consultant, but I too feel there are a plethora of viable options besides just outright selling them to the highest bidder and if they didn’t I even wish JPC would have consulted the Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable because….. I also agree with one of the other commenters that the Du Sable or Schomburg and similar institutions do not have the resources, space, and/or equipment to likely house and maintain this collection, but it would be wonderful if an Oprah, Jay and Bey, or whoever could come on board and donate it to an institution that can house and preserve them.

  71. Stacie
    February 25, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I can’t begin to say how heartbreaking it is to see such a historical collection be practically given away. The alternatives listed in this blog are great ideas and could be great places to start. This makes me wonder about the competency of the corporate leaders. Their best idea is to sell iconic and classic photos for almost nothing. If business is that bad, selling photos will not save it. It’s clear where JPC is going wrong, but I guess that’s the elephant in the room at board meetings.
    These magazines were the only ones I thought existed when I was growing up. Every relative had a Jet or Ebony magazine on the coffee table. They were the only magazines that had people that looked like me on the cover. If these photos are not precious to the head of JPC, they are precious to so many of us who couldn’t wait to see the new issues. These photos need to be respected and preserved, not just sold off to the highest bidder.

  72. March 8, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    You have to wonder if Miss Linda and Miss Desiree are selling this legacy for parts and will eventually let Ebony go. If that is the case, I would hope that the one or two black venture capitalists out there would swoop down and buy the entire Ebony enterprise.

  73. Wayne
    March 17, 2015 at 9:34 am

    My father was the building supervisor at Johnson’s Publishing Company for about 20 years until they closed the building. My siblings and I grew up in that piece of Black History, even getting to sit down and talk with Mr. Johnson on multiple occasions! My dad and everyone there LOVED that place, I mean genuinely lt! So when it came time for the building to be closed down, my dad asked if I wanted to help. I jumped at the chance! For 7 days from 10 pm to 6 am, I got to sit at the front desk in the lobby, go through the old offices and look through some of the things that had been left behind. I was SHOCKED at some of the things that was left! I was able to grab a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s essay books which was signed by his wife, Coretta! It was a bittersweet moment and I hate what is happening to them….

  74. […] impassioned about the archive and it’s role in African-American history, had a great post on the sale, expressing anger and shock that such a low price, $40 million USD, would be put on the […]

  75. antonio blocker
    March 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    They should be in the smithsonian otherwise you could see famous photos of Black ppl on rolls of toilet paper.

  76. […] Pope’s love life on ABC’s “Scandal,” Johnson Publishing Company selling its prized photo archives or first lady Michelle Obama’s hairstyles, Ajayi’s thoughtful take is enlightening and […]