The Lawyer Who Saved a Black Cultural Treasure

Activist George Fatheree

George Fatheree Excitedly Shares Ebony Magazine Issues at Conference Table
George C. Fatheree III ’07

On one hand, George C. Fatheree III ’07, is an expert in complex real estate transactions at Sidley Austin LLP. On the other, he's a fierce champion of social justice, racial equity and the arts. Put the two together, and you get a uniquely dynamic changemaker. One who can leverage the power of law to make a real impact on the social issues he cares deeply about.

Fatheree is one-of-a-kind, but he's also a graduate of LMU Loyola Law School’s JD Evening Program. Loyola Law School creates a new kind of lawyer for a new kind of world — an elite hybrid of real-world experience with a world-class legal education, prepared to take on today's complex challenges with meaning and purpose.

Fatheree’s story is proof positive. When he was called to rescue the priceless archives of Ebony and Jet magazines, he brought both his passion for cultural history and his sharp, practical legal expertise.

A Black cultural treasure, in jeopardy

It's hard to overstate the importance of Ebony and Jet magazines in Black America. At its peak, Ebony alone reached over 40% of African-American adults.

The archives of Ebony and Jet are a cultural treasure trove, home to four million photos, as well as 100,000 film and audio recordings. According to the New York Times, it is “the most significant collection of photographs depicting African American life in the 20th century.”

In 2019, the parent company of the iconic magazines, Johnson Publishing, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The archives were put up for sale, and at risk of being damaged, destroyed, or, if sold to the wrong private owner, vanishing forever.

For Fatheree, those outcomes were unacceptable. "Nothing else like these archives exists,” he says. “It's a visual documentation of eight decades of African American history — which is to say American history."

Fatheree got to work. He and several of his partners at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP toiled around the clock for five days straight, dealing with bankruptcy, corporate, tax, intellectual property and litigation issues, hoping to guide the archives into responsible hands. “The scope of the project was immense,” he says.

Fatheree helped strike a deal, forever preserving the archives with the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and other public institutions. Most importantly, there are plans to create an exhibition of the work for everyone to see.

“Loyola's JD was the strongest game in town."

Just a few years earlier, George Fatheree wasn’t in law at all — he was running an education nonprofit. “I loved what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to go back and get my degree," he says. "I wasn't going to leave Los Angeles and I didn’t want to quit my job. I needed a program that would provide the flexibility that my family and I needed."

As he began to research law programs, Fatheree didn’t want any JD — he wanted the best. "I wasn't going to compromise quality,” he says. "It needed to be a program with a school that had a top reputation, with reputable faculty, with peers who I thought I could learn from. And really Loyola was the strongest game in town."

Looking back, he has no doubt that LLS was the right choice.

Practical legal skills in action

When the Johnson archive went up for sale at bankruptcy auction, Fatheree had five days to pull together a team and solve a host of bankruptcy, corporate, tax, intellectual property and litigation issues. “The scope of the project was immense,” he says. "I'd never done this exact thing before, but I was pretty sure no one had."

Fatheree wasn’t a bankruptcy attorney, but he did know how to lead a diverse team. Diverse classmates — hailing from disparate industries and walks of life — are everywhere at the law school. “We had a woman who was a professional ballerina,” he says. “We had a gentleman who had just retired from the military, we had engineers and entrepreneurs. I was always leading and contributing to diverse teams.” 

He also knew how to ask the right questions. He learned that from his professors, who were deeply immersed in their profession. “I remember driving into my office,” he says, “listening to the radio and hearing my professors talk about the most important cases in the news, and then, a few hours later, I'd be in their class raising my hand, asking questions.” Loyola Law is proudly located in downtown L.A. — the epicenter of law in Southern California. This proximity enables professors to work at the height of their craft during the day, and share those experiences with their students in the evening. 

When taking on a challenge of this magnitude, the right education makes the difference. “A J.D. from Loyola is not all about deep, philosophical legal questions that can never be answered, Fatheree says. “It’s about how to be a lawyer in the real world.”

Welcome to a family of difference makers

Fatheree stays active with Loyola Law as co-chair of the Black Alumni Committee. He also teaches a class called Real Estate Transactions Practicum that uses as its textbook actual, redacted contracts from real estate deals on which he has worked. 

He’s proud to be a part of the LLS legacy — a 100-year-old history of producing multidimensional lawyers who make a tangible difference in the world. It’s a legacy George Fatheree takes pride in building every day in his work and in the classroom. 

Loyola gave him the tools to be an elite hybrid, one who closes billion-dollar financing transactions one day, and the next, represents Holocaust survivors and secures reparations from the German government. "It's really transformative how Loyola Law School is thinking about the hybrid JD program,” Fatheree says. “I got real-life skills and experience to pursue and impact things that I'm passionate about, and that are important to my family.” 

Ready to turn your passion into practice? Loyola's hybrid JD program provides non-traditional students with unparalleled access to professors like George Fatheree, who practice law by day and teach at night.

About LMU Loyola Law School

Located on an award-winning Frank Gehry-designed campus in downtown Los Angeles just minutes away from Southern California's legal, financial and entertainment epicenters, Loyola Law School is home to prominent faculty, dedicated students and cutting-edge programs. The law school strives to instill in students the knowledge they need to excel on their chosen paths. It dedicates itself to preparing students for the rigors of practice with an extensive portfolio of practical-training opportunities, a 19,000-strong alumni network and a focus on social justice. The LLS JD Evening program is the No. 1 evening JD program in the West for over a decade, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.