Missouri Digital Heritage :: Collections :: African American Portrait Collection

Missouri State Archives
African American Portrait Collection

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African American Portrait Collection

Progress Amidst Prejudice: Portraits of African Americans in Missouri, 1880-1920

When the daguerreotype was first introduced in 1839, it was primarily members of the upper class who could afford to sit for the photographer. However, the cabinet card, introduced in the 1860s and popularized by the late 1870s, made it possible for everyone, rich and poor, to have their likeness made. Following development of this affordable means of creating images, photo studios sprang up on virtually every main street in America. Photographs became not only cheap, but could be duplicated as often as needed, and for the first time, family photos could easily be collected and assembled in photo albums for display.

By the late nineteenth century African Americans had the opportunity to participate in the phenomenon of portrait photography. Despite low earnings as barbers, laborers, cooks, or laundresses, they could afford to buy or sew at least one nice suit or an attractive dress. Like white Americans, black Americans proudly dressed in their best clothes and posed for portraits. At the Missouri State Archives, one can find examples of how African Americans saw themselves a generation after slavery Ė as dignified, proud, hard working, and self-sufficient members of their communities.

The Collection

In 1999, curators at the Missouri State Museum located and purchased several photo albums that included unidentified African Americans primarily from the Moberly area, but also from Hannibal, Louisiana, Macon, St. Joseph, Jefferson City, St. Louis, and Kansas City. These albums were loaned to the Missouri State Archives for copying and scanning. In total, the collection consists of 129 images of African Americans from approximately 1880 to 1920. The bulk of the collection is in the form of the widely popular albumen print cabinet card, which was replaced later by the silver gelatin postcard.

Rights and Reproductions

The State Museum allowed the Missouri State Archives to copy the images in order to make them more widely accessible. It is because of the State Museumís generosity that this portrait collection is now available online. Any use of the photographs found in this collection must credit the Missouri State Museum, Department of Natural Resources. Digital reproductions can be provided at cost by contacting the Missouri State Archives at 573-751-3280, e-mail archref@sos.mo.gov, or by mail at Missouri State Archives, P.O. Box 1747, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

How to use this collection

The African American Portrait Collection consists primarily of unidentified cabinet cards from photo studios scattered throughout northern Missouri. The best way to access these portraits is to simply browse through the collection. You can, however, do keyword searches.

Additional Resources

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