KU News Release

November 14, 2012
Contact: Rebecca Smith, KU Libraries, 785-864-1761

KU Libraries launches online exhibit of Kansas African-American photography

A black-and-white photograph of an unidentified bridesmaid helping an unidentified bride adjust her veil. Three other women are partially visible in the background of the image. The groom's last name has been identified as "Johnson."

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Libraries has launched the online Leon K. Hughes Photography Collection and Exhibition. The Hughes Collection is one of several African-American Experience Collections found in the Kansas Collection of the Spencer Research Library. Through a unique collaboration with the Kansas African American Museum, KU Libraries offer these materials and encourage community participation in enhancing and enriching this new interactive digital collection.

The university acquired the Leon K. Hughes Photography Collection in 2009 from Rosie Hughes, who wanted to keep the memory of her husband’s work accessible to the public. Leon K. Hughes began his photography career in 1946 with the help of his wife while working in the city’s aircraft industry. Hughes became the leading photographer for the city’s family, church and civic events, covering marriages, birthdays, graduations and much more. The collection of photographs offers an inside view of the African-American community that has rarely been seen by the general public and showcases how they refused to allow racism to deny them experiences of love, faith and grace.

“Never before have we had a collection that gives us so many sketches of people’s personal stories,” said Deborah Dandridge, archivist for KU’s African-American Experience Collections at KU Libraries. “These images demonstrate a people who found joy and dignity within their families and communities despite all the negative public images of their lives and the myriad of restrictions imposed on them at the time.

“The collection lets those who are not familiar with the African-American experience look at how African-Americans developed their tradition of self-determination through family and community. The events that are captured through these images are the events of the enduring traditions of African-American community life,” Dandridge said. “It gives you a clue to why the modern civil rights movement gained so much steam: because of the strength of family and community. Everybody was in it together.”

Hughes’ photographs provide images of African-Americans rarely seen by the general public. They provide a rich documentation of African-American family and community life in Wichita from the late 1940s through the 1970s. The interactive online collection includes more than 1,000 images of the 2,700 photographs taken by Hughes, a self-taught photographer. However, information concerning the hundreds of people, events, buildings and/or activities documented through the Hughes collection is not always available. For that reason, KU and the Kansas African American Museum are asking community members to browse the photographs and submit details they may have about any of the images.

“We hope this online collection will capture the interest of the African-American community in Wichita and that people will spend some time looking at the individual images and let us know when they recognize anyone or anything that is currently represented by a question mark,” said Sarah Goodwin Thiel, coordinator for KU Libraries’ digital initiatives. “There is so much of life represented here and so many details that were never originally captured. We feel very strongly that it will take the Wichita community to build this online collection.”

In celebration of the premiere of the collection, KU Libraries and the Kansas African American Museum will have an event at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Kansas African American Museum, 601 North Water St., Wichita. Dandridge and Goodwin Thiel will demonstrate how to browse both the online exhibit and digital collection and how to contribute additional information about friends, family members and events seen in the Hughes photographs.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the preservation of diverse collections ranging from medieval manuscripts and other rare books to Kansas historical records to national political documents. For more information, visit here.

The Leon K. Hughes digital collection and online exhibition were created by staff from the KU Libraries Center for Digital Scholarship and Integrated Technologies division. Specialists digitally reproduced selected photographs, standardized and converted existing inventory information, created an interactive component for supplying new information, created an online exhibition featuring images from the collection and made all materials openly accessible to all. For more information about the services of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Integrated Technologies, visit here.

The Leon K. Hughes Photography Collection exhibition can be seen here.

The Leon K. Hughes online collection is available to the public here.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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