University of Virginia’s Holsinger Collection Offers a Look at Early 20th-Century African Americans

holsinger_fergusonThe University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library has digitized the work of studio photographer Rufus W. Holsinger, who worked in Charlottesville, Virginia, from the late 19th century through World War I. The archives include more than 9,000 images. Among the portraits are 500 photographs of African Americans.

John Edwin Mason, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, said that “what attracts me most about the portraits is the way that Holsinger and his clients collaborated on photographs that embodied the way that they wanted the world to see them. At a time when crude racial stereotypes dominated the way most White Americans viewed African-Americans, Holsinger captured pride, strength, endurance and respectability. Some of his clients were clearly middle-class. Others were just as clearly poor. No matter who they were, Holsinger made a good portrait, just as he did for his White clients.”

Among the photographs is the portrait featured here of Dr. George Ferguson and his family. A graduate of the medical school at Howard University, Dr. Ferguson was the first African American physician to establish a practice in the area. His daughter Olivia was one of the Charlottesville 12, a group of African American students who integrated the city’s public school system in 1959.

An exhibit of the African American portraits of Holsinger Collection is scheduled for 2017. The collection may be viewed online here.


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