Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Does a Picture Say to You?

Ellie Weems photograph collection, ca. 1951

When I attended an open house for the Auburn Avenue Research Library’s archives I knew I wanted to become a volunteer. As an aspiring archivist, I was very interested in learning about the profession. I was placed on the Ellie Weems photograph collection in which I had expressed interest. Weems was a local Atlanta photographer who later moved to Jacksonville, Florida where the majority of his large collection was created. Over the years, however, the collection became jumbled and needed organization. So far my job has been simple: taking the photos and placing them into envelopes to help preserve and organize them.

Rehousing the photographs offers a unique look into the past. The images provide a window into people’s homes, into their schools, and into their happiest and saddest moments. I have seen hundreds of photographs of simple portraits, church functions, school events, weddings, and even funerals. All of the pictures have a story to tell about the lives and realities of black Americans. Most of the photos are self-explanatory but every so often my work is livened up by photos I cannot explain.

On my first day with the collection, I came across a picture from 1951 that has intrigued me ever since.  In it a group of school children are dressed in white t-shirts with Confederate battle flags while they are waving American flags. While such a picture would no doubt cause a visceral reaction today, I do not have such a context from this time period. I have speculated on what could possibly be going on in the picture. Could it be a form of self-racism or a form of protest? Was the Confederate battle flag not as controversial then as it is now? Or perhaps things were just different in Florida. As a historian, I am very curious to know what the photo depicts because it would add another dimension to black history.

So far, my time in the archives has been informative and interesting. If anyone happens to know what the context of the picture might be, feel free to share.

Posted by Jasmine Talley, AARL Volunteer

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