Open Book/Open Mind: Black history in photos that never saw print
COURTESY SAM FALK/THE NEW YORK TIMES
At Open Book/Open Mind
Darcy Eveleigh and Rachel L. Swarns, moderated by Marc Lacey
Friday, March 2, 7 p.m.
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
In 1964, Arthur Ashe won a tennis tournament against top-seeded player Dennis Ralston. But, Arthur Ashe didn’t make it into the New York Times. The white runner-up did instead.
An editing choice to report on the more famous people? Ashe hadn’t won a national
championship yet. A production issue? Unconscious racism? It’s unclear.
The New York Times had a picture of young Arthur Ashe, just 21 in 1964, beating Ralston in the quarter-finals of the Eastern Grass Court Championships in South Orange.
Now that unpublished photo has been printed, in “Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Archives,” by Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Danien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns.
Eveleigh, a Glen Ridge resident, and Swarns, of Montclair, will appear in Open Book/Open Mind, moderated by Marc Lacey, Friday, March 2, at 7 p.m.
The project began for the series titled “Unpublished Black History,” that ran in February 2016. “The idea was to have a series of photos that would run every day in February,” said Swarns, who joined the interview at Eveleigh’s Glen Ridge home from telephone.
Readers got involved.
A picture of a young schoolgirl in Princeton, New Jersey, 1964 at the chalkboard, in a story about integration, was published without names: there were none in the captions provided. So when they published the photo and asked readers, “does anybody know who these kids are?” The woman herself, Evelyn Turner Counts, came forward.
“I looked and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me!’” she is quoted as saying in the essay by Swarns and Damien Cave that accompanies the image.
She was 7 when the picture was taken. A picture of her as an adult is in the book.
“We wanted it to be a conversation with people about history and these images,” Swarns said.
LOOKING AT AN INSTITUTION
Among the pictures in the book is William H. Hastie, the first black governor of the Virgin Islands greeting Harry Truman in 1948; a white segregationist in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963, holding a bumper sticker for “Citizens’ Councils/States Rights/Racial Integrity;” Dizzy Gillespie blowing his horn in a Harlem school in 1983; and African American soldiers in Vietnam.
The work of 38 photographers are in the volume, with a total of 175 images.
Eveleigh said when she began working at the Times Tumblr, she had a chance to chat with
John Godfrey Morris, who was 95 at the time. Morris, photo editor of The Times during the 1960s and ’70s, got very agitated when she asked him what to look for. “Go back and re-edit everything.” Morris said. He said The Times would often have only a one-column hole in the print edition, and a lot of wonderful photos that needed two to three columns for layout never ran.
A few years later, when she was looking for photos that would be appropriate for Black History Month, she remembered what he said.
“Unseen” is dedicated to Morris, with his remark.
They chose from the 3.5 million staff photos stemming from the mid-1940s, because negatives before that, unfortunately, were culled.
When she and Canedy began working on the project, she quickly discovered that in some cases, only a small number of pictures were ever printed. Sometimes a picture didn’t get back to New York in time to run. But, some choices, such as the one not to run Arthur Ashe’s image, raised questions, she said.
“To look at ourselves as an institution, and think about how we cover communities of color. To think about what photos we took, and why we didn’t publish them, and what individuals were never captured at all,” Eveleigh said .
THE MIXED-UP FILES
The photos are organized, but there’s a big but, Swarns said. People who weren’t the reason for a shoot might not be named in a photo caption file.
Eveleigh couldn’t find a picture of photographer Moneta Sleet Jr., the first African-American man to win a Pulitzer, but came across him in a sack of negatives about racial diversity on college campuses. Photographer Eddie Hausner had run into Sleete and put a handwritten note in the sack to his editor, Eveleigh said.
“This actually happened a number of times,” Swarns said. “It’s very organized except when it isn’t.”
The team came across actor Sidney Poitier and diplomat Ralph Bunch in a similar way. They had PR pictures of Poitier, but nothing very interesting: until Eveleigh found a photo of him filming “For Love of Ivy” with Abbey Lincoln, attached to a film review.
And some of the New Yorkers missing, like W.E.B. Dubois “makes you wonder about our coverage choices,” Swarns said. “The New York Times was an important institution at a time when important institutions were marginalizing African-Americans.” And, she said, they came to the conclusion that in some instances coverage was affected by those attitudes.
“It’s complicated, there are other things too. We had a very small number of staff photographers, we weren’t all over the country, and photos weren’t the big thing that they are now,” Eveleigh said.
At the end of the project, Swarns said, they invited readers to submit their own photos, from their basements and attics. They did. People would write in to say they remembered the photographed events, like a parade: “It really touched something.”
There are many more photos to be discovered and more history to find, Eveleigh said. She’s working on another book now about The Times and its history, and more recent history.
“Those archives are such a magnificent place,” Eveleigh said. “It’s a dream.”