Pride of the Swift-Growing South: Tuskegee Institute Photography
August 24, 2019 - March 22, 2020
In 1881, Lewis Adams, a formerly enslaved man, and George W. Campbell, a former enslaver, founded a school to train African American teachers in Tuskegee, Alabama. Adams and Campbell hired Booker T. Washington to serve as the new school’s principal, and over time, Washington built Tuskegee Institute into a major southern center for African American vocational education. He traveled and fundraised extensively, and as part of his efforts, in 1903 Washington hired New Orleans-based Arthur P. Bedou as his personal photographer and soon made him Tuskegee’s official photographer as well. After Washington’s death in 1915, Bedou was replaced by Augusta native C.M. Battey, who had also documented Washington’s activities; he served as Tuskegee photographer until his death in 1927. During his tenure at the school, Battey mentored P.H. Polk, whose work over his four decades as Tuskegee’s official photographer has recently gained wider acclaim.
The Tuskegee University Archives has acquired a treasure trove of works by this succession of Tuskegee photographers – Bedou, Battey, and Polk. This exhibition presents many of these pieces publicly for the first time. These images illuminate the lives of African Americans who attended or taught at Tuskegee in the Jim Crow era and cover a range of subjects, including portraits of Tuskegee faculty, students, and area residents; Washington’s public speaking engagements; and homecoming parades, athletic events, and other candid images depicting student life.