African American photo collection being auctioned by Johnson Publishing in Chicago

CHICAGO (Fox 32 News) – It’s being called perhaps the most significant collection of African American photos in history, and soon, we’ll know who owns it.

Millions of pictures from the archives of Chicago’s Jet and Ebony magazines went on the auction block Wednesday and the winning bid will be announced in the next few hours.

Inside a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s West Side, archivist Vickie Wilson led FOX 32 into a storeroom containing a treasure trove of African American history.

“We’re looking at the archive images from Johnson Publishing down through the years,” said Wilson. “Over 70 years of history.”

Nearly four million photographs from the magazines packed neatly into folders inside thousands of cardboard storage boxes.

“This is a picture of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King,” said Wilson.

There are African American athletes, Billy Williams, Reggie Jackson and Ray Robinson. Musicians like James Brown, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. Even poet Maya Angelou as a young dancer.

“This is African American history,” said Dr. Margena A. Christian, author. “We have more than seven decades worth of our images, our stories.”

Dr. Christian is a former Johnson Publishing employee who recently wrote a book about the company, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year. It’s now auctioning its photo archive to repay its debts.

Dr. Christian says it’s important the collection remain in the public eye.

“It’s the hope and desire that whoever owns this does the right thing,” said Dr. Christain. “And is able to see the beauty and importance of why these images should be seen. Why these stories should continue to be told.”

At one point, the collection was valued at $60 million. But its significance is priceless.

“You see things you’ve never seen before,” said Wilson.

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