‘Investment Guru’ Mellody Hobson Seeks Johnson Publishing Company’s Historic Photo Archive

Entrepreneur Mellody Hobson is attempting to foreclose on the photo and recording archives of Ebony and Jet magazines after the magazines’ former owner, Johnson Publishing Company, filed for bankruptcy. Hobson, a Black woman from Chicago whose fans include Oprah and Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg, has been involved with a variety of financial services organizations.

The archives contain photographs of iconic African American leaders and artists, including Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, Aretha Franklin, and Prince. According to The Wall Street Journal, the work of longtime Ebony staff photographer Moneta Sleet Jr., who was the first Black journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize, is also included. The archive was appraised for at least $40 million in 2014.

The historical archives are uninsured, and at risk after the bankruptcy filing, The Wall Street Journal reported. The archive was used as collateral for a $12 million loan the publishing company took out with Capital Holdings V, where Hobson is a high-level executive. Hobson, who reportedly has strong connections at Johnson Publishing, was directly involved in providing the loan meant to help keep the publishing company afloat.

The loan, which matured just before Johnson Publishing sold the magazines in 2016, has been in default for nearly three years. Early in April, the publishing company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after several failed attempts to restructure, obtain alternative financing, or find a buyer.

Ebony Media Operations, LLC (EMO), which owns both Ebony and Jet magazines, said that the two publications were not affected by the bankruptcy filing. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Capital Holdings said it was “dedicated to preserving and celebrating stories and storytellers from around the world.” “The Johnson Publishing archives are an essential part of American history and have been critical in telling the extraordinary stories of African American culture for decades. We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come,” the statement continued.

The investment company’s request for the archives will have to be approved by a bankruptcy judge. Attorney Miriam Stein, the Chapter 7 trustee in charge of Johnson Publishing’s assets, may challenge Capital Holdings’ request. Stein did not immediately answer The North Star’s request for comment. However, in an email to The Wall Street Journal, the lawyer said that she was working to secure insurance for the publishing company’s assets and that she was against Capital Holdings’ request to foreclose the archive.

“I believe that the archives have significant value and should be sold through the bankruptcy case as opposed to being foreclosed upon by the lender,” she said. When it filed for liquidation, Johnson Publishing Company listed assets between $10 million and $50 million, as well as the same range for its liabilities. The publishing company said it had more than 200 creditors.

Johnson Publishing was founded by John H. Johnson, who used a $500 loan borrowed against his mother’s furniture. In November 1945, Ebony launched and promised “to mirror the happier side of Negro life – the positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood,” according to The Chicago Sun-Times. Six years later, in 1951, Jet was born.

At first, the two magazines opted to steer clear of covering politically-charged topics, but that changed in 1955 after the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi. Responding to a request by Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, Jet published a photo of the boy’s body in his coffin. Hobson is married to filmmaker George Lucas; the two co-own Ariel Investment.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.