Historic Portraits Celebrate African-American Culture in Texas

Aug. 9, 2016

The Texas Collection’s latest exhibit, "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives," features a diverse collection of black & white photographs that serve as powerful reminders of the African American story in Texas. The oldest image celebrates the graduation of seven, proud young men from medical school in 1894. The most contemporary is from 1975 — a silver gelatin print of Oscar Du Congé, mayor of Waco. Each of the images selected for this exhibit depicts the depth and range of African American culture in Texas.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives began while processing the Farmers Improvement Society collection in 2012. After working through this and seventeen other African American collections, preparing finding aids for each, the idea of an exhibit featuring African Americans in Texas was viable. In February 2016, a five-member committee began meeting to determine which photographs from these collections best represented the lives and accomplishments of African Americans in Texas. 

The result is an exhibit that highlights men and women in education, athletics, agriculture, entertainment, industry, business, politics, medicine, law and many other fields. The images feature vocalist Jules Bledsoe, Paul Quinn College, Oscar and Kitty Du Conge, R. L. Smith, Vivienne Malone Mayes and the Rev. Marvin Griffin. Geographically, the exhibit has a focus on Waco but also expands to other regions of the state. 

The photographs were taken by noted photographers Fred Gildersleeve (1881-1958), Fred Marlar (1912-1989) and Russell Lee (1903-1986).

The exhibit is open to the public for viewing Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.