It’s a lot to wade through — 983,000 photographs, some 3.35 million negatives and slides, 166,000 contact sheets and 9,000 audio and visual recordings.
So an advisory council has been named to undertake the process of preservation and programming around Johnson Publishing Co.’s historic archive — acquired last year for $30 million by a consortium of the Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.
The nonprofits had sought to safeguard the unparalleled treasure of African American history and culture in the Ebony/Jet archives — spanning World War II through the Civil Rights Movement and the culture boom of the 1980s and ’90s — ensuring it’s kept available to the public.
On Wednesday, they announced the newly formed Advisory Council, chaired by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden — the former Chicagoan who became the first woman and first African American to serve in that position when appointed in 2016 by President Barack Obama. She’s only the 14th person to hold that position since its creation in 1800.
“I am honored to lead an Advisory Council comprised of leaders who share a deep understanding and appreciation of this archive’s significance,” said Hayden, a graduate of South Shore High School and Roosevelt University, who worked for the Chicago Public Library from 1973-1979, and Museum of Science and Industry, 1982-1987.
“With such diverse areas of expertise, this group represents a wide range of perspectives that will be crucial in advancing this undertaking and ultimately showcasing this historic collection of art and culture,” Hayden said.
The Council includes other recognized leaders in academia, art, culture and media.
There’s Louise Bernard, director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center at The Obama Foundation; Dawoud Bey, photography professor at Columbia College Chicago; Darlene Clark Hine, board of trustees, professor of African American Studies and professor of History, at Northwestern University; Meredith Evans, archivist, historian, scholar and director of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum; Jonathan Holloway, incoming president of Rutgers University.
There’s also Kellie Jones, professor in Art History and Archaeology, at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University; Richard Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History, at Duke University; Brent Staples, editorial board member at The New York Times; Jacqueline Stewart, professor of Cinema and Media Studies and director of Arts & Public Life, at the University of Chicago; and Deborah Willis, director of the Institute of African American Affairs, professor, and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging, at Tisch School of the Arts.
“The iconic archive from Ebony and Jet magazines tells a story about the African American experience in the 20th century that is far too often overlooked. Establishing such a robust Advisory Council for this project is a critical step forward in our work to preserve and share this national treasure,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander.
The council will oversee evaluation and interpretation of the collection’s 4 million-plus pieces, developing programming to make it available for broad public use before it’s donated to the Smithsonian and other cultural institutions.
MacArthur will host an event in Chicago this summer to showcase selected images from the archive — still being processed by conservators and curators — which will remain in Chicago until transferred to Washington, D.C., for digitization, to be made searchable by the public through database technology.