You are here
Photographer Al Ricks volunteers his time to copy photographs for the project. Photo by Jane Johnson.
This album grew out of a year long project developed to address a gap in this community's local historical record and a need to preserve the visual history of the black community in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
Although the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County's Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room held a collection of approximately five thousand photographic prints and close to seven million negatives, there was little representation of blacks and their accomplishments and contributions to our history before this project was initiated. Photographs from the black community were, for the most part, still held by individuals. They were not available to researchers or the community at large and they were at risk, often stored in less than ideal conditions and subject to loss and damage. A project to locate, duplicate, preserve and make these photographs available to a wider audience was conceived by Carolina Room staff and received the enthusiastic support of Library Administration.
The project was launched with a sold out benefit performance by actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee at Spirit Square Center for the Arts on February 6, 1991, during the Library's annual celebration of Black History Month. The response was overwhelming. During three day-long sessions held at the library in February, individuals from the community brought in over 1500 photographs. Professional photographers volunteered their time to copy the photographs and other volunteers and library staff recorded information about each print as it was received. It was an exhilarating experience for all as memories and stories from the past were shared among both friends and strangers.
In June of 1991, the Library was notifed that the Knight Foundation had approved a grant for the publication of a book featuring a selection of the photographs acquired during the project. Through this book, the photographs would reach a wider audience and, hopefully, stimulate an interest in local black history.
Over the summer, Carolina Room staff developed a database of information about each photograph on a Macintosh Ilex computer using HyperCard software. Each individual identified in a photograph has been recorded and staff can search by names, dates and subjects for specific photographs. All the photographs copied during the course of the project will be permanently preserved in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room and duplicates are available to the public for a small fee.
The most difficult task of the project, the selection of the photographs to be included in the book, was thoughtfully and painstakingly accomplished by editor Elizabeth Randolph. The objective in the choice of images for inclusion was not to provide a chronology of events, but rather to give a flavor of the times, to provide the reader with a visual portrayal of what life was like for the many families living and working in the black community in the years before 1950. Mrs. Randolph's many contacts in the community served her well as she tracked down elusive bits of information for the book.
Design, layout and typesetting for the book were accomplished on the Library's Macintosh-based desktop publishing system using QuarkXPress electronic publishing software.
This book would not have been possible without the generous support of the black community in sharing their photographs and the stories behind the photographs.
We are grateful for the endorsement of Rolfe Neill and his associates at the Charlotte Observer. Their endorsement was considered by the Knight Foundation in awarding the grant which assured publication of this book.
In addition, the photographers who volunteered their time deserve special recognition. Ladd May, Dennis Nodine and Al Ricks spent long hours over their copy stands to provide the best copies possible for the project.
Chris Bates, Shelia Bumgarner, Valerie Burnie, Joan Carothers, Judy Harris, Beth Hayden, Lew Herman, Susan Kirby, Rosemary Lands, and Tom Montefusco, all staff or former staff of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, assisted in many ways with this project. They input data, organized negatives, researched dates and names and assured that the day-to-day operations of the Carolina Room continued smoothly despite the pressures of publication. Nina Lyon, Main Library Services Director, supported us from the beginning, offering the encouragement and staffing assistance necessary to complete the project.
This has truly been an enlightening experience for all of us involved in the project. These photographs have given us a better understanding and appreciation of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County's black heritage. We hope that by sharing the photographs in An African American Album, others will have the opportunity to glimpse the past and celebrate the accomplishmments of our black community.
An African American Album: The Black Experience in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1992)