Found in the LOC: 7 Augustus Washington Daguerreotypes

It’s unclear what ambitions Augustus Washington had growing up in Trenton, NJ, circa the 1820s and 1830s. It definitely wasn’t daguerreotypist. But a daguerreotypist he became – in 1843, to pay for his tuition at Dartmouth.

While growing student debt forced him from school one year later, daguerreotypes stuck, and became Washington’s bread and butter: He opened his own studio in Hartford, CT, in 1846, where he spent the next handful of years taking pictures of locals looking to experience his new-fangled technology.  Below you see an ad for said studio, with the caption, “Washington is at home, and daily executing beautiful and correct Miniatures, equal to any in this country, at his uncommonly cheap prices.”

But Washington was more than a talented artist. He was an activist. The son of a former slave father and an Asian mother, Washington fought racial injustice his whole life. But “that curious institution” of slavery was still extremely entrenched in the 1840s and 1850s; Washington was well aware he and his allies faced an uphill battle, and at times he felt hopeless, an emotion evident in this 1851 quote Washington gave the New York Tribune:

“Strange as it may appear, whatever may be a colored man’s natural capacity and literary attainments, I believe that, as soon as he leaves the academic halls to mingle in the only society he can find in the United States, unless he be a minister or lecturer, he must and will retrograde.”

Washington grew so frustrated with America’s intractable discrimination that in 1853 he moved his family – a wife and two children – to Liberia, where many like-minded black Americans were establishing their own nation.

Once there, Washington took his place behind the camera again, this time turning his lens to burgeoning Liberia’s political, military, and social elite. Below are a few of those images. In each and every one we see self-assuredness, independence and pride, all evidence of the subjects’ and Liberia’s determination to create something beautiful, a new world, from something grotesque, old hate.

These are some of Washington’s last professional images. He transitioned from daguerreotypes to the more lucrative sugar cane business in the late 1850s, and then to politics: He was both a congressman and senator in the 1860s, including a stint as speaker of Liberia’s House of Representatives, from 1865-1869. Washington died in 1875, having never again setting foot inside the States.

Here, in case you’re interested – and you should be – are lucky number 7 of Washington’s daguerreotypes, all taken during his early years in the then-new nation of Liberia, and all Found in the LOC.

  1. Unidentified man, half-length portrait, three-quarters to the left:

 

2. Stephen Allen Benson, head-and-shoulders portrait, three-quarters to the left:

 

3. Urias A. McGill, half-length portrait, facing front:

 

4. Unidentified man with beard, half-length portrait, full face:

 

5. Unidentified woman, probably a member of the Urias McGill family, three-quarter length portrait, facing front, holding daguerreotype case:

 

6. Jane Roberts, three-quarter length portrait of a woman, full face:

 

7. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, half-length portrait, full face:

MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s speech that day, as well as audio from a 1968 delivery in DC.

Continue reading

Kylie Jenner and The Cult of Self-Made

The internet had a collective meltdown after Forbes described Kylie Jenner as “self-made” last summer. Many critics railed against Jenner’s privileged upbringing; others pointed out socioeconomic systems are inherently unequal; and the rest mostly noted there’s no such thing as self-made — no person’s an island, no lipstick developed alone, and all that.

One’s opinion of Jenner’s self-made status aside, the “self-made mogul” kerfuffle presented a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of “self-made” in America, its centrality in our national myth, and the dangerous expectations it creates.

I didn’t have a chance to write about this very pressing matter when the story first broke, but now, as 2018 comes to a close, here are a few words on Kylie Jenner and the timeless cult of “self-made.”

Continue reading

ICYI 2018 Year in Review

Whoa. Where did 2018 go? I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s nearly done now. To celebrate, here are ten of my favorite stories from ICYI over the past twelve months, in no particular order.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Problem

Join, or Die, America’ First Meme

All the LGBT Books Around My House

Was Pocahontas Her Real Name?

Lyndon Johnson Hated The Graduate

“Daybreak,” Over and Over.

16 Posters By Graphic Great Lester Beall

The Incredible Arthur Ellerman

Found in the LOC: A Cat’s Autobiography

Paul Revere: Art Thief

ICYI: Wyoming First In Women’s Suffrage, 1869

Hats off to Wyoming, which on this date in 1869 became the first territory or state to grant women the right to vote.

Sure, the all-male legislature’s intentions weren’t the truest. Some hoped to drum up good publicity for Wyoming. All of them were Democrats, and many hoped to secure partisan favor among potential female voters. And some simply wanted to attract more women to Wyoming for procreative purposes – or, at least, sex.

Regardless of the lawmakers’ reasoning, the measure passed 7-4, and was soon signed by Republican Gov. John Campbell. Women voted in Wyoming the next fall. But things didn’t go as Democrats planned: women leaned Republican that year.

Bitter as all hell, Democrats tried to rescind the women’s suffrage the next year, but Gov. Campbell used his veto power to put a stop to that. Later, in 1890, when Wyoming was transitioning from territory to state, the U.S. Congress also urged them to excise women’s suffrage from their state constitution. But this time lawmakers from both parties refused, a move that helped cement Wyoming’s nickname, The Equality State.

On a related note: check out a recent post on awesome women’s rights activist Dr. Mary Walker.

Hercules: Gilbert Stuart’s Most Fascinating Subject

Gilbert Stuart was the Annie Liebovitz of his day: Every power player wanted to sit for one of the painter’s portraits, and many did, including six sitting presidents, many of their wives, congressmen, merchants, and “influencers” of the era. No doubt you’d recognize his most famous work: the George Washington portrait Dolly Madison saved from the burning White House during the War of 1812.

That said, looking at a gallery of Stuart’s work becomes tedious. It’s white face after white face, powdered wig after powdered wig — but wait, here’s someone interesting: the only person of color in his collection. It’s a man known only as Hercules, George Washington’s enslaved chef.

Continue reading

Found in the LOC: 15 Walker Evans ‘Praise’ Shots

Building off Tuesday’s post on James Agee, today’s Found in the LOC features 15 Walker Evans images taken for the men’s mutual project, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Evans (1903-1975) never dreamed of photographing the down-and-out while growing up in Chicago’s affluent suburbs. His first love was French literature, and it was that subject that consumed his early, and brief, college education at Williams College. Frustrated by American academia, Evans left Massachusetts to spend 1925 in Paris before returning to the US, specifically New York City, where he worked as a Wall Street clerk.

It wasn’t until 1928 that Evans began taking photos, and it began as just a hobby –  snapping the Brooklyn Bridge and historic Boston homes. But things got more serious as the decade drew to a close, and in 1931, Evans shot the images for Carleton Beals’ The Crime of Cuba, about life on the island under Gerardo Machado’s iron fist. This work caught the attention of officials at the New Deal government’s Resettlement Administration, which in 1935 dispatched Evans to cover the Great Depression in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. This role in turn led Evans into the Farm Security Administration, for which he did similar work, only in the South, paving the way for Evans’ work with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and the production of singular images that became as synonymous with the era’s trials and tribulations as Dorothea Lange’s.

Continue reading