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Nancy T. Robinson

historian, collector, archivist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born Wallace Michael Branch in Brooklyn, New York, one of two sons of Byrd Branch, an entrepreneur who operated a cleaning and tailoring business in New York City and held down a thirty-five-year job at the weekly newspaper Irish Echo to support his family, and Vera Barbour Branch. In Brooklyn, Branch and his family lived a solid middle-class lifestyle, making their home in a four-floor brownstone home that they owned.

Branch was born with sickle cell anemia a hereditary incurable chronic disorder with which patients suffer severe pain and tissue and organ damage as a result of oxygen and nutrient deficiencies At the time of Branch s birth information about and treatment of the disease were limited According to his family doctors who treated Branch as a child never gave him much hope for survival At fourteen Branch became so ill that he ...

Article

Samuel W. Black

photographer and fraternal leader, was born in Kearneysville, West Virginia, the eleventh of thirteen children of Allen Cole, a wagon maker, blacksmith, and carpenter, and Sarah Jenkins Cole. The Cole family numbered among the 4,045 African Americans in Jefferson County, West Virginia's most populous county in 1880. Although he came from a humble background, the elder Cole was able to send some of his children to Storer College in Harpers Ferry, eight miles east of Kearneysville. Allen “Allie” Cole was enrolled at Storer in October 1900, following his older brother Hughes and older sister Lucy, both of whom attended in the early 1890s. The first school of higher education for African Americans in West Virginia, Storer College was founded in Harpers Ferry in 1867 under the condition that it did not discriminate by race gender or color At Storer Cole completed courses in industrial ...

Article

Donna M. Wells

photographer, journalist, and diplomat, was born on the campus of Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University), in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Oglethorpe Laboratory Elementary School, a practice school on the campus. Davis's professional career began in high school and continued until his retirement in 1985. He was first introduced to photography by William (Bill) Brown, an instructor at the Atlanta University Laboratory High School where Davis was a student. Throughout high school and later as a student at Morehouse, Davis supported himself through photography assignments from local newspapers and public relations firms.

Davis's college education was suspended in 1944 when he joined the armed forces during World War II and fought with the Ninety-second Infantry Division in Italy. After his tour, Griffith returned to Atlanta in 1946 and continued his college studies. He befriended writer and professor Langston Hughes and civil rights activist and ...

Article

John Hanson Mitchell

photographer and naturalist, was born in Natural Bridge, Virginia. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. In 1881, after attending primary schools in Lexington, Virginia, Gilbert was taken by his family to Lynchburg, Virginia, to complete his education. In 1886 he followed his brother William north to Boston, where he found employment as a porter on the Portland Boston steamship line. He would work various odd jobs until 1896, when psychologist James Chadbourne hired him to help with laboratory rats. Gilbert, as he was generally known in the Boston white community, also took a temporary job setting up a bird museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the renowned nineteenth-century ornithologist William Brewster. Brewster subsequently hired Gilbert as a full-time manservant, field assistant, factotum, and, as some of the early private journal records state, “friend,” to the well-respected Brewster.

Under Brewster s tutelage Gilbert learned how to develop ...

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Donna M. Wells

photographer, was born in Washington, D.C., into a middle-class family. His father was a physician, and his mother was an educator. In the 1930s he attended Dunbar High School, where his classmates included future photographers Harrison Allen and brothers Bobby and George Scurlock, sons of prominent African American photographer Addison Scurlock. Allen recalled that on several occasions the boys walked from school to Scurlock's photography studio at Ninth and U Streets to watch him work. This sparked their interest in pursuing photography, first as a hobby, then as a career. The Scurlocks later took over their father's studio, and Allen became a photographer for the Department of Labor.

McNeill entered Howard University as a pre-med student but kept up his skills by photographing campus events, particularly celebrity visitors to the university. When Olympic track star Jesse Owens made a campus visit McNeill snapped a picture of ...

Article

Prentice Herman Polk became interested in photography at a young age. He began studying through a correspondence course which he paid for with ten dollars he was mistakenly given as change for a candy bar at a local store.

Polk attended Tuskegee Institute from 1916 to 1920 and was ...

Article

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

photographer and film producer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to William Howard Wallace, a chef and musician, and Margaret Shannon Wallace, a real estate broker. William was the younger of the couple's two children; his older sister, Jacquelyn, was born 9 August 1936. William attended Chicago's public schools, graduating from Betsy Ross Elementary in 1951 and Central YMCA High in 1955.

Wallace's uncle gave him a camera on his tenth birthday, triggering his fascination with photographic images. With money he earned from his paper route, Wallace bought his first developing kit the following year. Three years later his family moved to a new apartment, and their landlord, Anthony Haywood was an accomplished freelance photographer with his own darkroom Noticing Wallace s interest in the medium Haywood took him under his tutelage Guided by Haywood Wallace developed the fundamental technical skills that prepared him for ...

Article

Ann M. Shumard

abolitionist, photographer, and Liberian statesman, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Christian Washington, a former slave from Virginia who operated an oyster saloon, and a woman who is identified only as a native of South Asia. She apparently died soon after his birth, for his father remarried in October 1821. Washington was raised in Trenton and until early adolescence attended school with white students. When access to such schooling ended in the face of growing racism, he was left to continue his education on his own. He worked for his father for several years, studied intermittently, and became an avid reader of Benjamin Lundy's Genius of Universal Emancipation and William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator These papers aroused Washington s hatred of slavery and racial prejudice and inspired him to become an activist Eager to contribute to the uplift of his ...

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Born in Portland, Oregon, Carrie Mae Weems grew up in a working-class family. After studying at California Institute of Arts she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from the University of California, San Diego in 1984. A self-proclaimed “image-maker,” Weems deals with issues of history, gender, and class by combining photographic images and narrative text. Often achingly personal, Weems's images explore issues of bigotry, self-presentation, and relationships by incorporating African American folklore and bigoted or stereotypical narratives into her work. Her early work dealt with issues of family and class and quite often featured Weems and members of her own family. Portraits such as Honey Coloured Boy, Chocolate Coloured Man, Golden Yella Girl and Blue Black Boy—taken with a Polaroid camera and then hand tinted—illustrate both real and unreal varieties of “black” skin, calling into question the category “black” itself.

Weems' Sea ...

Article

Brenna Sanchez

photographer and Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist, was born in Lexington, North Carolina, one of six children of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister, whose name is now unknown, and Ruby Mae Leverett White. White proved a slow student and was once told by a teacher that he would grow up to be nothing more than a garbageman. His father reportedly answered that remark by telling his son that what he did mattered less than wanting to be the best at whatever goal he had set for himself. White purchased his first camera at age thirteen for fifty cents and ten bubblegum wrappers. When he began studying commercial art at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina, he decided to become a professional photographer.

A turn in the U S Marine Corps gave White his first professional photography experience When he returned to civilian life he had a difficult time ...

Article

Jennifer Lynn Headley

artist, educator, and art historian specializing in African American photographic history, was born in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Thomas, was a police officer, and her mother, Ruth, was a hairdresser. Willis grew up with four sisters in a tight-knit and loving family. Her father, the family photographer, and his cousin (who name is not known) who owned a photographic studio, constantly took pictures of daily family life, including her mother's visual transformation of the neighborhood women as a hairdresser. Willis was mesmerized by images in the media and noted how blacks were portrayed as criminals or outsiders to the normal, suburban white family. Willis also noted that African Americans were omitted completely from history books except for references to slavery in the antebellum South. In Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava's lyrical photo essay The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955 Willis discovered tender images of black ...