African American Baton Rougeans featured in new exhibition

February 21st, 2013 by Tara Laver

In recognition of Black History Month and in connection with “Blacks in the Red Stick,” a conference sponsored by the LSU African and African American Studies Program, or AAAS, to be held on Friday, March 8 in Hill Memorial Library, LSU Libraries Special Collections will host an exhibition of the same name in the lecture hall of Hill Memorial Library. The display will run from February 25 through April 13, and admission is free and open to the public during library hours of operation.

The exhibit, on loan from Director of the African and African American Studies Program Joyce Jackson, features photographs taken of blacks in the Baton Rouge vicinity, from about 1890 to 1947. Jackson selected the images from the Andrew D. Lytle Photograph Collection and the Alvin E. Rabenhorst Photograph Collection in LSU Special Collections, as well as prints from Esso and the Farm Security Administration held at the Louisiana State Library. These striking and evocative photographs capture their subjects at work and leisure.

A complementary display, “Portraits of the Past: An Archival Mystery,” features selected items from a collection of photographs recently donated to Special Collections. It includes portraits of blacks made at Plaquemine and Baton Rouge photography studios, including Lytle’s, between 1887 and 1891, as well as photographic postcards and images of a minstrel show.

Cabinet card of unidentified young girl.  Studio unknown.

Cabinet card of unidentified young girl, about 1890. Studio unknown.

The collection is a bit of a mystery because the people pictured in it are not identified, although they were probably well known in the community. Because the pictures were made by local photographers and kept in an album found in Baton Rouge many decades after it was created, it is likely that the people pictured had a long-standing connection to the city. Even without identification, the photographs are significant because of their relative scarcity. Most photographic images of blacks from the late 1800s typically feature sharecroppers and laborers in the fields. In contrast, these photographs show us well-to-do men and women dressed for the camera, enjoying the luxury of having expensive studio portraits made.

Hill Memorial Library is open Mondays and Wednesdays-Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Note that the library will be closed Friday, March 29, and Saturday, March 30. For more information, call 225-578-6544 or visit LSU Libraries’ Special Collections website at www.lib.lsu.edu/special.

For additional details on the “Blacks in the Red Stick” conference, contact the LSU African and African American Studies Program at 225-578-5246 or aaas@lsu.edu. To learn more about the recent donation that is displayed, see our blog.

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