In that spirit, this article – using images from the David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan – examines different ways Black Americans from the 19th century used photography as a tool for self-empowerment and social change.
Black studio portraits
Speaking about how accessible photography had become during his time, Douglass once stated: “What was once the special and exclusive luxury of the rich and great is now the privilege of all. The humblest servant girl may now possess a picture of herself such as the wealth of kings could not purchase fifty years ago.”
To pose for a photograph became an empowering act for African Americans. It served as a way to counteract racist caricatures that distort facial features and mocked Black society. African Americans in urban and rural settings participated in photography to demonstrate dignity in the Black experience.
The first successful form of photography was the daguerreotype, an image printed on polished silver-plated copper. The invention of carte de visite photographs, followed by cabinet cards, changed the culture of photography because the process allowed photographers to print images on paper. Cartes de visite are portraits the size of a business card with several copies printed on a single sheet. The change from printing images on metal to printing on paper made them more affordable to produce, and anyone could commission a portrait.
Collecting kinship: Arabella Chapman albums
During Victorian times, it was fashionable for people to exchange cartes de visite with loved ones and collect them from visitors. Arabella Chapman, an African American music teacher from Albany, New York, assembled two cartes de visite photo albums. The first was a private album of family pictures, while the other featured friends and political figures for public viewing. The creation of each book allowed Chapman to store and share her photographs as intimate keepsakes.
Innovative entrepreneurs: The Goodridge Brothers
When photography became a viable business, African Americans started their own photography studios in different locations across the country. The Goodridge Brothers established one of the earliest Black photography studios in 1847. The business, opened first in York, Pennsylvania, moved to Saginaw, Michigan in 1863.
The brothers – Glenalvin, Wallace and William – were known for producing studio portraits using a variety of photographic techniques. They also produced documentary photography printed on stereo cards to create 3D images.
Saginaw, Michigan, was an expanding settlement, and the brothers photographed new buildings in the town. They also documented natural disasters in the area. Photographers would capture 3D images of fires, floods and other destructive occurrences to record the impact of the event before the town rebuilt the area.
Documenting communities: Harvey C. Jackson
Burning the Mortgage of the Phyllis Wheatley Home in Detroit, Michigan, on Jan. 4, 1915. By Harvey C. Jackson.
David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography. William L. Clements Library
The development of Black photography studios allowed communities greater control to style images that authentically reflected Black life. Harvey C. Jackson established Detroit’s first Black-owned photography studio in 1915. He collaborated with communities to create cinematic scenes of important events. In one photo, Jackson documents a mortgage-burning celebration at the Phyllis Wheatley Home, established in 1897. Its mission was to improve the status of Black women and the elderly by providing lodging and services.
Mortgage-burning ceremonies are a tradition churches observe to commemorate their last mortgage payment. Harvey Jackson documented this occasion with each person holding a string attached to the mortgage to connect each person in burning the document.
African Americans’ engagement with photography in the 19th century began a tradition for Black photographers’ use of photography today to promote social change. African Americans, whether they are in front or behind the camera, create empowering images that define the beauty and resilience contained within the Black experience.
]Samantha Hill, 2019 – 2021 Joyce Bock Fellow at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan and current graduate student at U-M School of Information, University of Michigan
It’s hard to relax. We’re in an uncomfortable place right now. The future is unclear. Our leaders are not all stable. And the world economy is in flux. But God. He’s our anchor. His love never changes and we know that when we pray, it helps calm our heavy hearts and anxiety about the uncertainty of it all. Below you’ll find a compilation of two-minute podcast shorts by the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI, on prayer. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program which was called Daily Direction and covered a variety of issues and topics. So, turn the ringer off on your phone, find a quiet place, be still, and listen.
In late winter, many Christian denominations observe a 40-day period of fasting and prayer called Lent. This is in preparation for the spring celebration of Easter, a religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
As a scholar who studies Christian liturgy, I know that by the fourth century, a regular practice of 40-day fasting became common in Christian churches.
The practice of fasting from food for spiritual reasons is found in the three largest Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In all three, refraining from eating is intimately connected with an additional focus on prayer, and the practice of assisting the poor by giving alms or donating food.
In the Gospels, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness to fast and pray. This event was one of the factors that inspired the final length of Lent.
Early Christian practices in the Roman Empire varied from area to area. A common practice was weekly fasting on Wednesday and Friday until mid-afternoon. In addition, candidates for baptism, as well as the clergy, would fast before the rite, which often took place at Easter.
During the fourth century, various Christian communities observed a longer fast of 40 days before the beginning of the three holiest days of the liturgical year: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
As Christianity spread through Western Europe from the fifth through 12th centuries, the observance of Lent did as well. A few Lenten days were “black,” or total, fast days. But daily fasting came gradually to be moderated during most of Lent. By the end of the Middle Ages a meal was often permitted at noon.
Also, bishops and theologians specializing in church law specified restrictions on the kinds of acceptable food: no meat or meat products, dairy or eggs could be consumed at all during Lent, even on Sundays.
Today, Catholics and some other Christians still abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent, and eat only one meal, with two smaller snacks permitted, on two days of complete fasting. In addition, they also engage in the practice of “giving up something” during Lent. Often this is a favorite food or drink, or another pleasurable activity, like smoking or watching television.
Other activities are also suggested, in keeping with the idea of Lent as a time for spiritual renewal as well as self-discipline. These include making amends with estranged family and friends, reading of the Bible or other spiritual writers, and community service.
Though some practices may have changed, Lent in the 21st century remains essentially the same as in centuries past: a time of quiet reflection and spiritual discipline.
In this Sunday, July 10, 2016 file photo, parishioners clap during a worship service at the First Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation, in Macon, Ga. There are two First Baptist Churches in Macon _ one black and one white. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Most religious Black Americans say understanding the role of religion in the lives of Black people is essential for understanding the African American experience, a new Barna Group survey finds.
Four out of five Black adults in the U.S. who have ties to a faith group agree to some extent (41% “strongly” and 38% “somewhat”) that “to understand the African American experience, it is necessary to understand the role of religious faith in the lives of Black people.”
The percentage of religious Black Americans who agree with that statement has grown to 79% today from 71% in 1996.
The results are based on responses from some 1,800 Black American adults, including more than 800 who attend a Black church. The California research firm conducted the survey in the spring of 2020.
Half of Black church attendees — defined in the study as African Americans who attend a majority Black church — agree “strongly” that faith is a crucial dimension of the Black experience. Additionally, almost 4 in 10 (38%) agree “somewhat” about that.
But a larger percentage of Black church attendees — 69% — agree that pastors of Black churches are the Black community’s most important leaders. A lower percentage — 63% — agreed with that statement in 1996.
Not unexpectedly, a higher percentage of Black church attendees (77%) agree in 2020 about the role of these pastors in Black communities. But Barna noted that “perhaps surprisingly,” higher percentages of some young Black church attendees agree “strongly” compared to Boomers.
The study found that Black church attendees tend to have stronger positive views about the Black church than African American adults in general. When asked, “When you hear ‘The Black Church’ mentioned, what is your immediate response?” Black church attendees selected “important” and “safe” most often. But about one-third of the general Black population chose “old-fashioned,” and about one-fifth chose “stifling.”
There was a noticeable drop in the percentage of respondents who said church involvement was “desirable.” While 90% of Black adults agreed with that description in 1996, only 74% agreed in 2020. The question did not specify Black church involvement, but a higher percentage of Black church attendees (94%) said in 2020 that they consider being active in a church to be desirable.
Two-thirds of Boomers (66%) who are Black church attendees say church involvement is “very desirable,” compared to about half of younger Black church attendees (55% Gen Xers, 51% millennials, 46% Gen Zers). All of the generational numbers are lower among the general Black adult population (49% Boomers, 44% Gen Xers, 39% millennials, 41% Gen Zers).
“The data speak to the challenge and opportunity facing Black faith leaders as they steward the influence of their Church communities for a new era,” the research firm said as it announced its second report.
The findings were based on an online survey, conducted April 22 to May 6, of 1,083 U.S. Black adults and an additional 822 Black church attendees. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
The 1996 findings were based on a phone survey of 802 U.S. Black adults and have a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.
Editor’s note: Amid numerous articles about how Black students lag behind others in educational achievement, occasionally you may hear about a young Black “prodigy” who got accepted into college at an early age. According to Donna Y. Ford, an education professor at The Ohio State University, there could be far more Black prodigies. But it would take the right support from families, who may not be familiar with some of the characteristics of gifted students and the existence of gifted programs, and educators, who often overlook the talents of Black students. Indeed, while Black students represent 15.5% of the student population in the U.S., they represent only 9.9% of all students in gifted and talented programs. In the following Q&A with education editor Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Professor Ford – who has been a consultant for Black families thinking about sending their gifted children to college early – argues that public schools are holding back Black talent rather than cultivating it. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Jamaal Abdul-Alim: Why do public schools so often fail to identify gifted Black students?
Donna Ford: The No. 1 reason for the underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education is the lack of teacher referrals, even when Black students are highly gifted. I definitely think stereotypes and biases hinder educators from seeing Black students’ gifts and talents. In most schools in the U.S., if you are not referred by an educator, you will not move through the identification pipeline for gifted education programs and services, as well as Advanced Placement. It starts and it stops with teachers.
They’re saying, “I’m frustrated, I don’t know what to do other than pull my child out and home-school.” You don’t see a lot of Black home-schooling. If the parents are able to do it, they have the means.
Abdul-Alim: Are these children really prodigies or do they just have parents who are just really actively involved and concerned about their children’s education, and recognize the public schools are doing them a disservice?
Donna Y. Ford is a distinguished professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. The Ohio State University
Ford: There’s a lot of controversy in the field about how children become gifted, no less a prodigy. To me, it’s not just nature or nurture. It’s both. So nature is they have the capacity, the potential. And then nurture is they have the experience, the exposure, the opportunity, access. And that includes the families who have the means and wherewithal to advocate for their children or to nurture whatever potential is there. But personally and professionally, I believe that the most important factor – for students being very gifted and prodigies – is the environment. That means their families, and their cultural, social and economic capital.
Abdul-Alim: But doesn’t that kind of point away from the idea of these children being “prodigies”? Because if the thing they have in common is well-educated parents who have high incomes, it seems like almost any child in that situation could achieve similar educational results.
Ford: A prodigy just means that you have children who are performing at the level of an adult; that’s the basic definition of a prodigy. So that has nothing to do with their income and families, education, etc. It is about how they are performing. They’re playing the piano like an adult who has taken lessons. They picked up on these skills and skill sets very easily. Or they are inventing mathematical formulas that you would only see adults doing. They’re in middle school and can do the work of college-level students. You can have this potential, but if you don’t have these opportunities at home, at school, even in the community, then the gifts and talents that you have may not come to fruition at the highest level.
Abdul-Alim: When families come to you about whether or not to enroll their young child in college, what do you generally advise them to do or to consider?
Ford: There’s a lot of variables to consider. One is the child’s emotional and social maturity. I think their size is important. Are they small for their age? That can contribute to some social and emotional issues, in particular bullying or isolation. Do they have siblings who are older who might be intimidated or negatively affected by their younger sibling being accelerated?
Abdul-Alim: What is your advice to families who can’t afford to home-school, but who have children who could very well be higher-performing if given the opportunity? How does society provide opportunities for children who fall in that category?
Ford: I want the families to become familiar with what the barriers are. So when Black families have contacted me about their child not being identified as gifted or not being challenged like their white classmates, then I point them to the Civil Rights Data Collection website, which is run by the U.S. Department of Education. I have them look specifically at what the data says for representation in gifted programs and Advanced Placement classes. I ask them to look at suspension and expulsion by race and corporal punishment, if that exists in their schools, which it does in some states, and very last, take a hard and critical look at all the data.
You can go straight to data for your child’s district or school building. And so, they can come armed with these demographic data showing underrepresentation in gifted and Advanced Placement, but overrepresentation in certain categories of special education as well as discipline, such as suspension and expulsion. And when they come informed, then sometimes – not always – the educators are put on notice. And they do what they’re supposed to do anyway, which is share information with families about how to gain the resources and opportunities that their children need.