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Rare look inside the Ebony and Jet magazine photo archive that just sold for $30M

The legacy of Ebony and Jet magazines
"We knew we were getting the truth": The importance of Ebony and Jet magazines to black America 02:25

More than four million prints and negatives from Ebony and Jet magazines were bought this week for $30 million. The images represent 70 years of American history, immortalized onto glossy paper, mostly in black and white. Some capture the stark reality of the black experience in America.

The images include a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Martin Luther King's wife and daughter at his funeral, Muhammad Ali stinging like a bee, Ray Charles playing dominoes, and a crooning James Brown. The images humanized celebrities and celebrated regular people.

Perri Irmer, the president of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History, said the collection captures "The essence of the black story in America."

"You'd be hard pressed to walk into a black home back in the day and not see the current issue of Ebony or Jet magazine," she said. "We knew we were getting the truth. We knew we weren't getting someone else's version of us."

But decreasing subscriptions and rising debt forced Johnson Publishing to sell the magazines and put its prized photo archives up for auction. Archivist Vickie Wilson gave CBS News' Adriana Diaz rare access to the files.

Some photos were a catalyst for change. When Jet published the disturbing open casket image of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was beaten and lynched in 1955, it helped spark the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks said she was thinking of Till when she refused to give up her seat. 

These are images Wilson wants shared with future generations: "To let them know — show — how far we have come."

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