University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Acquires Massive Photographic Archival of Black History

The Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received the Roland L. Freeman Collection as a gift from the Kohler Foundation, a family foundation that supports the arts and education. The archive, which will be part of the university’s Southern Folklife Collection, will be available to researchers later this year.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1936, Ronald Freeman was inspired to become a photographer after participating in the 1963 March on Washington. His career led him to photograph landmark events, such as the unrest following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign “Mule Train” March on Washington, and Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the United States.

The collection is a massive compilation of assignment and project work by Freeman from a career that spans more than 50 years of documenting Black communities, public figures, and folk art and artisans. It consists of nearly 24,000 slides, 10,000 photographic prints, 400,000 negatives, and 9,000 contact sheets. Also included are publications and an archive of Freeman’s papers.

“The Southern Folklife Collection is deeply honored and excited to preserve and provide access to Roland Freeman’s photographic archive,” said Steve Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection. “Freeman’s research and documentation of African American Folklife is innovative in its collaborative methodology and a landmark in the study of African American quilters. His collection will be an invaluable resource for students, historians, folklorists, documentary filmmakers, and many more groups.”

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