University of South Carolina to Digitize Collection of Early Twentieth-Century African-American Portraits

The special collections library and the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina is working to digitize a collection of over 3,000 portraits of Black residents of Columbia, South Carolina in the 1920s and 1930s.

The collection comes from the studio of Richard Samuel Roberts. In the 1970s, researchers from the University of South Carolina discovered Roberts’ collection in a crawl space beneath the Roberts family home. A small portion of the collection was published in the 1986 book, A True Likeness: The Black South of Richard Samuel Roberts 1920-1936 (Writers and Readers, 1994).

Today, a team from the University of South Carolina is working to digitize Roberts’ entire collection which was originally captured in the negative on glass plates. The portraits will be scanned into an online archive accessible to the public. By making the photos available to a wider audience, the researchers hope that more of the portraits’ subjects can be identified.

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