The Manuscript Archive and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta has acquired an extensive collection of more than 10,000 photographs of African America life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The earliest photograph is from the 1840s and the most recent are from the 1970s. Most of the photographs are of African American life from after the Civil War to 1940.
The photographs do contain images of many famous African Americans including William Monroe Trotter and Marcus Garvey but most of the photos are images of ordinary citizens. The photos were collected by Robert Langmuir of Philadelphia. Langmuir grew up in Philadelphia and was a rare book collector for 35 years. Langmuir stated, “”Not every photo is a stellar, poignant image. A lot of them are family archives, or from family albums, people doing things, just living their everyday lives. That’s what I was interested in – looking at black culture through black people’s eyes.”
Kevin Young, curator of literary collections at Emory, reports that “the archive reveals the richness of African American daily life from pictures taken by house photographers at nightclubs, to cabinet cards and calling cards of black disc jockeys, to photographs of preachers, blues singers, saints and sinners. No doubt this collection will change the field of African American and American studies.”
The photograph shown here from the new Emory collection is a 1920 image of Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds.