Angela Davis - Bob Heliton, Angela Davis smoking a cigarette (1968). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Man sitting on a bicycle - Picture of a man sitting on a bicycle (circa 1920s). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
River baptism - River baptism witnessed by hundreds as an African American minister performs the ceremony. People, horses, and buildings visible on the riverbank (circa late-19th century). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Portrait of African American family - Portrait of African American family (circa late-19th century). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Alligator attack - Kilburn Brothers, Young African American boy grabs onto a branch with his lower end in the mouth of an alligator. Two other alligators sit nearby. Caption reads "Terrors of the Alligator Swamp" (1979). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Man dressed in woman's clothing - James Wallace Black, Man dressed in woman's clothing, with purse (circa 1859–74). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Kids in front of Lucas Line steamship - O. Pierre Havens, Lucas Line steamship, with African American children on the riverbank in foreground. Well-dressed white people sit high up on the ship (Circa late-19th century).Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Shoeshine - African American child shining a man's shoe and smiling at the camera on Bourbon Street, New Orleans (circa early-20th century). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Witnessing a spanking - Russell Bros., African American woman spanks a young boy in front of cabin, with older man sitting watching with dogs. Includes inscription "I b'leves 16 to 1 I sho do" (1895). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
Sugarcane workers - African American men and women in a sugar cane field, with a well dressed white man on the right (circa late-19th century). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.
People sitting beneath a tree - H.S. Clark & Son, African American men and children sit with a woman beneath a large tree with a fence in the background. A cart and a house are seen behind the tree. The back reads "Moss tree for a meat market (circa mid-19th century). Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, Cornell University Library.

The Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs at the Cornell University Library is now available online, just in time for the start of African American history month.

The collection, donated to the Ithaca, New York, university in 2012 by Stephen and Beth Loewentheil, features 645 rare images documenting a century’s worth of African American life, from the 1860s to the 1960s.

While there are also images of major historical figures such as Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., political activist and author Angela Davis, and boxing great Muhammad Ali, the collection’s real strength is in its historical images of everyday life for average African Americans, most of whom are unidentified. In the photographs, they are shown at work, posing with family members for portraits, and at special occasions such as baptisms.

“One of the goals—both the Loewentheils in putting the collection together and ours in putting the digital collection online—is to push back against the predominance of material on African-Americans as enslaved people or working in menial jobs or other stereotypical situations,” Katherine Reagan, a curator of rare books and manuscripts at Cornell, told the New York Times. “We wanted to show a broader swath of people in everyday settings.”

Examples include a mother reprimanding her child, a young boy on the streets of New Orleans at the turn of the century, and men and women hard at work on farms. The collection also does not gloss over harrowing aspects of post-slavery US history, with several images of lynchings included in the hundreds of photos in the archive.


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