The Crusader Newspaper Group

Johnson Publishing’s archives in legal battle

Crusader Staff Report

Ariel Investment President Melody Hobson and her husband, Star Wars movie mogul George Lucas, have filed a lawsuit to take control of Ebony and Jet’s massive archive of historic photos, chronicling African-American life over the last seven decades.

The move is the latest development after Johnson Publishing Company filed bankruptcy last month. The company plans to sell Fashion Fair Cosmetics and its $40 million photo archives collection to pay off its enormous debts.

In 2015, the archive was used as collateral to secure a $12 million loan from Capital Holdings V, a company Hobson and Lucas control. The loan has been in default for several years and Capital Holdings is owed $13.6 million. Capital Holdings is concerned about the safety of the collection, noting it is sitting uninsured on leased premises.

In bankruptcy court filings April 24 in Chicago, Capital Holdings sought to foreclose on the archive, saying it feared damage to the archive and not being repaid by Johnson Publishing.

“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,” the company said in a statement April 24, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come.”

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, lawyers involved in Johnson Publishing’s bankruptcy proceedings told a federal judge that they hope to sell the photo collection to a party that will donate it to a museum.

Johnson Publishing, which sold its magazines three years ago, has been trying unsuccessfully to sell its photo archives for more than four years. It filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this month.

In 2016, Johnson Publishing sold Ebony and Jet magazines to Clear View Group, a private equity firm in Texas. In 2010, Johnson Publishing sold its iconic headquarters on Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago, which then sold the building to a real estate developer in 2018.

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