Photos for this blog post were selected and scanned with the assistance of Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez.
The United States celebrates Black History Month in February. First established as Negro History Week by African-American historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Black History Month was formally designated by president Gerald Ford in 1976:
“Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before ideals became a reality for black citizens.
The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.”
Here, the Still Picture Branch has assembled photographs from the National Archives’ holdings that represent African American life and achievements over 130 years of American history. While the following photographic selections are by no means a comprehensive view of African American history, we have attempted to show a range of images that document the African American experience.
“Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer.” The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. ca. 1861 – ca. 1865 (165-JT-230)
Henry Ossian Flipper: First African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. (64-M-221)
“Negro laborers at Alexandria, VA near coal wharf.” ca. 1860 – ca. 1865. (111-B-400)
“Madison County, Alabama. African-American agents and rural nurse with movable school. [The Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels.]” 1923.(16-G-280-S-2544C)
“Group of Negroes picking cotton.” 6/8/1928 (86-G-1B-1)
American Red Cross Rest Room for Colored Soldiers and Sailors. Colored sailors in the rest room of the Red Cross headquarters, Branch No. 6, of the New Orleans Chapter. This room has been fitted for the use of the colored sailors and soldiers by Louise J. Ross. (165-WW-127-16)
“Jam Session. Pearl Primus, who is just about the greatest female dancer of her race, performs to Honey-suckle Rose as played by all-star group consisting of Teddy Wilson (piano), Lou McGarity (trombone), Sidney Catlett (drums), Bobby Hackett (trumpet) and John Simons (bass). At Cafe Society downtown, Miss Primus dances barefooted.” (208-LO-12M-2)
“Photograph of 75,000 people gathered to hear singer Marian Anderson in Potomac Park” after she was denied the chance to sing at Constitution Hall due to her race. 4/9/1939. (306-NT-965B-4)
“Black children playing leap frog in a Harlem street.” (Image ID: 306-NT-171.611C)
“Negro woman tenant storing her canned food in a pantry built on back porch, with the help of her grandchildren. Allendale County, South Carolina. September 1940.” (Image ID: 16-G-162-S-7146)
“The thirty smartly disciplined members of “Squadron 10″, first colored unit to report for navigation training at Hondo Army Air Field, Hondo, Texas, are shown being inspected shortly after their arrival at the huge navigation airbase. The inspecting officer is Captain Frank H. Sheffield. At his left is Navigation Cadet Arnold W. Galimers, flight marcher for the colored group. ” (342-AM-173976)
World War II recruitment poster. (44-PA-87.)
(Image ID: 16-G-158-S14546 and 16-G-158-S14542)
Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the March on Washington. It was during this address that he made his “I Have a Dream” speech. (330-CFD-DA-SD-05-00640)
“Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [WNBQ/ National Broadcasting Company television crew (Channel 5) with Washington Monument and crowd in background.” (306-SSM-4C-43-26)
“Resident of “Little Korea”, one of several poverty pockets in Birmingham. Many blacks still live in these substandard conditions.” Date: 07/1972 – Photographer: LeRoy Woodson (Image ID: 412-DA-3033)
“[South Side of Chicago]. Although the percentage of Chicago blacks making $7,000 or more jumped from 26% to 58% between 1960 and 1970, a large percentage still remained unemployed. The black unemployment rate generally is assumed to be twice that of the national Unemployment Rate published monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Date: 05/1974 – Photographer: John H. White (Image ID: 412-DA-13768)
“Religious Fervor is Mirrored on the Face of a Black Muslim Woman, One of Some 10,000 Listening to Elijah Muhammad Deliver His Annual Savior’s Day Message In Chicago, the City is Headquarters for the Black Muslims, Their $75 Million Empire Includes a Mosque Newspaper, University, Restaurants, Real Estate, Bank and Variety of Retail Stores, Muhammad Died February 25, 1975.” Date: 03/1974 – Photographer: John H. White (Image ID: 412-DA-13792)
“Photographic documentation of Mission Specialist (MS) Mae Jemison near Rack 1 in Spacelab-Japan (SL-J)” – Mae Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut. In 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space.
“Astronaut Guion S. Bluford, mission specialist, walks on a treadmill exerciser during a medical test aboard the space shuttle orbiter Challenger (STS-8).” – As a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle ‘Challenger’ in 1983, Guion S. Bluford became the first African American to travel into space.
A wide range of federal agencies are represented in these photos, including the National Park Service, the various branches of the military, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Women’s Bureau, NASA, the United States Information Agency, and the Environmental Protection Agency. To find out more about the images, search for the item number in our online catalog.