American History Through an African American Lens

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

Capturing “I Do” in the Deep South

image

Photo: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.9.11.

Since the 1840s, photography at weddings has been used as a way to capture the important moments, communicate with friends and family, and mark the celebratory occasion.  For African Americans, this celebration of the important moments played a role in normalizing the middle-class lived experience. Into the 1960s and 1970s, most photographers of African American weddings were black.

In the early days of wedding photography, couples had to hold long uncomfortable poses in order for their special moment to be captured on film. As photography evolved the process became simpler and photographers began to document dynamic moments throughout the entire wedding ceremony. During segregation, caricatures and negative depictions of the black community were common in mainstream media.  Black photographers were able to create more positive narratives by capturing images of the communities in which they lived. Serving not only the broader narrative but individuals as well, these photographers gave newlyweds an irreplaceable gift by capturing iconic moments from the big day.

Black photographer Henry Clay Anderson captured African American couples as they began their lives together on their wedding day. Using his lens, Anderson documented weddings and daily life for almost 40 years in the segregated Mississippi Delta town of Greenville. For African Americans living in the South before the Civil Rights Movement, having their joyous life moments documented in photos was significant because most black life in the South was captured by photojournalists. Images of dilapidated tenement homes and the effects of Jim Crow dominated the media when Northern photojournalists were sent South to document black life. They rarely used their cameras to depict positive happenings in the segregated black communities. Photographers like Anderson, Addison Scurlock and James Van Der Zee used their cameras to showcase and highlight, the rarely seen daily life of the black community.

Despite the ugly stain of segregation, the African American couples and families depicted in the photos loved one another and used their elaborate wedding ceremonies to celebrate life and family bonding. Anderson’s wedding photos include lace wedding gowns, receptions, cake ceremonies and the wedding parties. When Anderson photographed weddings, it was his ability to narrow the lens and focus on a groom’s first glance at his new wife, or capture the joy of a couple’s first dance — that showed the humanity of African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

The entire Henry Clay Anderson Collection was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture by Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson. We’ve compiled a few beautiful wedding photographs from the collection below:

image

Photo: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.24.4.

image

Photo: Wedding party. Collection Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.24.18.

image

Photo: Wedding portrait of couple. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.9.3

image

Photo: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, object 2012.137.24.17.

image

Photo: Wedding portrait of couple. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.9.6.

image

Photo: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, 2012.137.3.9.

Note from the Digital Engagement Team:

The Henry Clay Anderson collection of photographs is a stunning look into the lives of African Americans in Greenville, Mississippi.  Unfortunately, we only have a small amount of information about the individuals featured in these amazing photographs.  If you see a photograph, a place, object or individual that you recognize, please let us know either on our Pinterest page or via email NMAAHCweb@si.edu.

Written by Lanae S., Digital Content Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Notes

  1. janaymonae reblogged this from nmaahc
  2. limpyslife reblogged this from nmaahc
  3. shepherdsnotsheep reblogged this from nmaahc
  4. morganacarta reblogged this from nmaahc
  5. ajgajw reblogged this from nmaahc
  6. anm-publichistory reblogged this from nmaahc
  7. nmaahc posted this