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Documenting the black experience

Missouri Photo Workshop exhibit reflects 60 years of small-town life

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  • Photos courtesy of the Missouri Photo Workshop
  • Published: Feb. 3, 2010
Caruthersville teacher Elna Hill

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Photo captions

  1. “View from Cemetery Hill” by Howard Sochurek. MPW 1, Columbia, 1949. In a 1949 article for The Quill, Otha Spencer, a participant at the first Missouri Photo Workshop, described Columbia: “Instead of being a simple college town … Columbia, upon close inspection, was a city with a race problem, and being situated right on top of the Mason-Dixon Line, the problem was more than ever evident.” The workshop is a laboratory for photographers to improve their visual storytelling skills but also holds up a mirror to the community.
  2. “Reading the Funnies.” Photographer unknown. MPW 4, Jefferson City, 1952.
  3. “Special Occasion” by Bob Trow. MPW 5, Boonville, 1953.
  4. “1954 Headline.” Photographer unknown. MPW 6, Mexico, 1954. A newspaper headline in The Kansas City Call signals the changing landscape in America. Changes in some local institutions and attitudes came slowly.
  5. “Piano Shrine.” Photographer unknown. MPW 6, Mexico, 1954. A tribute to mother and family incorporates religion, music and family photos.
  6. “Homemade Swing.” Photographer unknown. MPW 9, Hannibal, 1957. The '50s were a time when nothing went to waste. Two layers of linoleum remnants separate feet from Hannibal dirt.
  7. “Running Free” by Bill Ray. MPW 9, Hannibal, 1957. A foot race on a Hannibal street helps pass the afternoon for three youngsters. Small-town life offered a sense of independence for children and gave parents a feeling of safety.
  8. “House Call.” Photographer unknown. MPW 9, Hannibal, 1957.
  9. “Juke Joint.” Photographer unknown. MPW 10, Sikeston, 1958. Rural areas often had juke joints, places where friends could gather to relax and dance after a week of difficult labor. For years black patrons were banned from most white businesses because of Jim Crow laws.
  10. “Walking the Tracks.” Photographer unknown. MPW 10, Sikeston, 1958. Railroads have been important for small-town commerce, and the tracks have always been a magnet for youngsters.
  11. “Patty Cake.” Photographer unknown. MPW 11, Columbia, 1959.
  12. “Fanny Miles” by Dallas Kinney. MPW 18, Louisiana, 1966. Dallas Kinney says he began his 1966 Missouri Photo Workshop experience in Louisiana, Mo., by arriving a day early and having coffee at every establishment that served it. “I came armed with one question,” he says, “'Who’s the most important person in Louisiana?' The owner of a small diner told me that he considered Miz Fanny to be Louisiana’s most important citizen, for Miz Fanny keeps Louisiana clean.” Kinney later won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize and the first annual Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award for a series of photos documenting migrant workers in America.
  13. “The Lesson” by David Sommers. MPW 26, Warrensburg, 1974. Music teacher Ernest Collins works with one of his students at a Warrensburg elementary school.
  14. “Sick Day” by Catherine Ursillo. MPW 26, Warrensburg, 1974. A Warrensburg student gets a comforting pat on the head before being sent home. The note pinned to his sweater says, “Elonzo seems to be sick so Marvin is taking him home.”
  15. “Separate Lunches” by William Janscha Jr. MPW 30, Lebanon, 1978. Maintaining the hierarchy of the household, Dorothy Nelson cooked meals alongside her butler, handyman and friend, Adolph Ford, but dined in a separate room. (Caption from February 1989 National Geographic magazine article about MPW.)
  16. “Overcome With Joy” by Susan Bradnam. MPW 32, Sedalia, 1980. “Sedalia, in 1980, was clearly segregated by the train track that ran through town,” recalls photographer Susan Bradnam. “I was walking around the black area looking for a story, when Georgia Green (second from right in photo) found me.” Bradnam spent the next few days observing and documenting the strength the single mother of two mustered to navigate her life. Green had left nursing for the higher pay and more structured hours of a welding job in a local factory. The choir and church community were a major source of Green’s energy.
  17. “Success Across Town” by Donna Coveney. MPW 32, Sedalia, 1980. The students at this Sedalia elementary school seem unconcerned with the issues that preoccupied some members of the school board and community when the girl at center transferred into an all-white class. The photographer, Donna Coveney, recalls, “Her family was really nice, she was really bright and energetic, and it seemed so odd to me that her going to the school ‘across town’ would cause the whole town to go nuts.”
  18. “Black Cop” by Eric Krieger. MPW 39, Caruthersville, 1987. Caruthersville police officer J.B. Goodin responds to a call.
  19. “Sunday Morning Diversion” by Rebecca Barger. MPW 39, Caruthersville, 1987. Seven-month-old Plessie Ellitt IV distracts his mother, Laveta Lockridge, during Sunday morning services at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.
  20. “Dynamic Teacher” by Leslie Jacobs. MPW 39, Caruthersville, 1987. The focus of the workshop has always been to encourage photographers to find the situations to make a number of compelling photos to tell a story. This panel is an example of how Leslie Jacobs used a variety of distances, angles and situations to tell the story of Caruthersville teacher Elna Hill. Hill had a long teaching career in the bootheel community. J.J. Bullington, the school superintendent in Caruthersville, not only had been Hill’s student but also had taught with her when she returned to Caruthersville to begin her own career in 1982.
  21. “Couple” by Laurie Matanich. MPW 54, Fulton, 2002. Mark Holliway didn’t expect that meeting Kisa Burditt would be the reason he’d want to make a better life for himself. “As far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t even a man,” Holliway admits, describing a life involving heavy drug use and car theft. By 2002, when this photo was made, Mark was taking on new responsibilities, and a job as a welder, in order to support his new wife and her two children.
  22. “Searching” by Preston Gannaway. MPW 58, Moberly, 2006. Jason Nelson, 23, a resident of Marshall for just six months, was searching for some sense of stability when this photo was made. He and his wife and two children had moved from Kansas City to get a new start not long after Nelson was released from prison. After the workshop photographer Preston Gannaway returned to New Hampshire and her job at the Concord Monitor and worked on a long-term project that would garner her the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.
  23. “Miss Punny and Mom’s Garden” by Gemma Thorpe. MPW 61, Festus and Crystal City, 2009. Known as “Miss Punny” or “Aunt Punny” to neighbors and family, Ida Morris has created a neighborhood oasis across the street from her home. The lots, which have been in her family for a century, originally held the house where she was born and the grocery store her father operated. After the structures were lost in a fire, Morris turned the lots into “Mom’s Garden” to honor her mother. The garden is the site of many neighborhood and family gatherings and was the setting of MPW 61’s closing picnic.

Documenting the Black Experience in Small Town Missouri, a photo exhibit, is on display on the second floor of Ellis Library throughout February, with a few additional prints in the foyer of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

The images were selected from the archive of the Missouri Photo Workshop (MPW), founded in 1949 by Clifton Edom, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. Over the past 60 years, more than 2,000 photographers have documented 43 Missouri communities at MPW.

 “The images touch the chords of universal human experience,” says David Rees, co-director of MPW. “Some pictures will resonate with each person in a very personal way.”

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Reader feedback

  • I really enjoyed the Missouri Photo Workshop photos documenting the black experience that was part of the link in the February Mizzou E- news. They were absolutely wonderful, and I recommend everyone take the time to see them. I appreciated the opportunity to view them via Internet, as I live in Texas now and would not be able to travel back in February to view the exhibit at Ellis Library.  I would love to see all the photos in the archive.

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012