When George C. Fatheree III helped close a deal involving 4 million photographic images and an auction sale of $30 million, he helped preserve one of the most historically valuable collections documenting U.S. history.
The photography trove is the archive of Ebony and Jet magazines, a collection that captures world-famous Black American leaders of the 20th century, from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Miles Davis to U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Dorothy Dandridge and Lorraine Hansberry. But there are quiet, intimate images as well. “There’s a photo of Billie Holiday in a hotel room,” Fatheree recalls. “You can see the track marks on her arm. It’s a very raw, emotional, intimate image of her.”
Four foundations formed a consortium to make the purchase in 2019: the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The consortium’s intention, Fatheree says, was to preserve the collection in philanthropic hands, so that the materials could be captured, digitized and studied by the public and scholars in the future.
Fatheree, who teaches at the LMU Loyola Law School, says the collection is important not only because of the images of Black leaders but also as evidence of representation: Ebony and Jet regularly featured successful Black Americans in all walks of U.S. life.
“The archive shows lots of Black people in professional careers,” Fatheree says, “such as a head of a university library system or of a major restaurant chain.”
Fatheree, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson who earned his J.D. at the LMU Loyola Law School in 2007, completed the transaction within a five-day deadline. “This was a deal like no other that I had worked on,” he says.