Sept. 21, 2017 file photo, Representative. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DEL) and Kevin Ross attend the Universal Music Group and Ebony celebration in honor of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D)
( Kris Connor/Invision for Universal Music Group
Melissa Harris-Perry: Founded in 1942, Johnson Publishing Company dominated news and entertainment for black communities during the second half of the 20th century. Images of black celebrities, writers, artists, and activists filled the pages of Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine and back issues still stand stacked in the corners of Mima's living room where sometimes appear on the side table at your barbershop.
This week, ownership of the Ebony and Jet photo archive was transferred over to Smithsonian National Museum of African-American history and culture and the Getty Research Institute. This means millions of images, as well as audio and video recordings will be preserved and made available to the public. Dr. Carla Hayden is the 14th librarian of Congress and the first African-American and first woman to hold the post. She led a board of experts who helped determine where and how to preserve these archives. Can you remind people why Johnson Publishing and why Ebony and Jet matter so much?
Dr. Carla Hayden: Ebony and Jet. Ebony was the if you think about old magazine look magazine or those full-color magazines, the name Ebony was reflecting what it could document, and that was the first time that black life was documented in such a way with these stories presenting black life in all of its form. Then the one Jet, another color and another on the range was the smaller pocket size. It was in just about every black home, business, everything. That's where you got the news because at that time, when Mr. Johnson started in Chicago his publishing company, there weren't many positive representations or even coverage of African-American culture and history.
The small one came out every week, and that's where you found out who was getting married or who wasn't, or what was going on, that's where the news, because a lot of the things that related to African-Americans at that time weren't covered in the mainstream presses, that became the place, and sometimes you would only see it in Jet and you would only see it in Ebony. He also though was significant when he decided to publish in Jet the photo of Emmett Till, the open casket. He talked about it later, that in terms of seeing that photo and Mrs. Till saying, "I want everyone to see," was a turning point.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How did this extraordinary archive of 3 million photo negatives and slides nearly a million photos, 9,000 audio and visual recordings, how did this agreement to archive in this way, come into being?
Dr. Carla Hayden: This agreement was one of the best examples of individuals, institutions, and foundations coming together and saying, this archive has to be made accessible, and that's the digitization part of it, as well as made accessible without fee, this is free, this will be free to the public. You have the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which will be the home of the archive, as well as the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and that's based in Chicago, so there will be a Chicago presence as well to honor that Johnson Publishing started and was based in Chicago, as well as the Getty Foundation that specializes in digitization, all coming together and saying, we have to make sure that this is available to the public.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is no small feat. What is involved in digitizing and preserving such an enormous collection?
Dr. Carla Hayden: There's preparatory work. Because this was a archive that was used quite a bit, quite a few of the files and things were already in categories. Some of them are actually in folders and things like that that say sports, or baseball, or things like that. That makes it easier because you have to sort through all of the things. Then you physically have to take the materials. I think when listeners think about photocopying and those types of things, there's actual handling of the materials and putting them into a digital format. That's the bulk of the work, but once it gets going, and once it's up there, it's going to be wonderful. I know that there will be exhibits and different programming along the way so that people can get a sense and a taste of the archive.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about this open sourcing. You've said a few words, but I would want to understand how you're imagining that people are going to use it.
Dr. Carla Hayden: Think about students that are doing projects. They will be able to download and incorporate the images and the sounds, all types of film that might be available and create their own projects. You'll be able to have people who can use it for decorating. If you want an iconic photo to enlarge and just put in your own home or in your school or anywhere also think about the research that could happen as well.
You will have students as well as faculty members that are going to mine that collection and pull out things. One of the projects that's already been mentioned had to do with the fact that the Johnson Publishing and they recover drugged presentations in the black community, and there's a scholar that wants to document the history of drugs in the black community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I've enjoyed seeing some of the photos that have been chosen just in the media announcements about this. There's this incredible one of James Brown, but are there others that for you, obviously it's an enormous collection, but that have stood out as like this is now available?
Dr. Carla Hayden: Think about the photo of, this is Coretta King at the funeral with her daughter Bernice right there. You see the agony, the dignity, and everything there. It captures that. That's a photo that's been seen for decades, but captures so much. You can also have photos of just pure joy with Muhammad Ali, and those types of moments in the lives of people that we now think of as iconic, from Sammy Davis Jr. to Duke Ellington, to Eartha Kitt, all of these people you could see them in their glory and learn more about them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress. Thank you for your time on The Takeaway.
Dr. Carla Hayden: Thank you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're going to have some of those images up on our Instagram so check them out.
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