In Memoriam: Reuben V. Burrell, 1919-2015

burrellReuben V. Burrell, the university photographer at Hampton University in Virginia for the past 65 years, died on February 3. He was 95 years old and went to work up to the day before he died.

Burrell started taking photographs at the 1949 commencement ceremonies at Hampton. Through the years he chronicled campus visits of Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington, and Rosa Parks, among hundreds of others. The university is now preserving more than 20,000 film negatives from Burrell’s career at the university.

William R. Harvey, president of Hampton University, said that “Reuben Burrell was a true Hampton University legend. He captured the Hampton University spirit through his lens. His photographs and his stories were an inspiration. He touched the lives of many Hampton University administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and visitors.”

Burell was a native of Washington, D.C. He held a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and a master’s degree in industrial arts education from New York University.

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  1. Mr. Reuben V. Burrell was a phenomenal photographer, an elegant gentleman and the very essence of hard work. He represents a generation of ‘elder educators’ who attended and then made exceptional contributions to Historically Black Colleges & Universities and the students, faculty and staff who tread there. Mr. Burrell loved Hampton [HU] and I had the honor and privilege of meeting and working with him while there as faculty. While at HU, he assisted me in the coordination of a program entitled ” A Conversation with Our Elders,” an intergenerational exchange between students and elders, none younger than 80 years old. He knew and maintained contact with his ‘Hampton Institute’ colleagues and personified what it meant to be committed to an institution, its raison’d’etre and the generations of students who followed in the footsteps of his cohort. All of my return visits to campus required a visit with Mr. Burrell, my touchstone with an historical time & space that most of us merely read about. His quiet demeanor and understated wit will be sorely missed.

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