Rare Studio Portrait by Memphis’ First Black Professional Photographer Identified at Chick History Digitization Event

February 7, 2018
Contact: Rebecca Price 

Chick History’s statewide effort to document African American women’s political history moves to Middle Tennessee

First digitization event at National Civil Rights Museum yielded dozens of items including rare studio portrait by Memphis’ first black professional photographer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A team of scholars and archivists are inviting Middle Tennesseans to scan and digitize family photographs, letters, and memorabilia related to African American women’s political history prior to 1930 during a three-day event on May 18-20, 2018 at the Nashville Public Library’s Main Branch.

The May digitization event is the first opportunity for Middle Tennessee residents to participate in Protecting the Legacy, a statewide project organized by the nonprofit Chick History in partnership with Humanities Tennessee to commemorate the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification.

The first digitization event, held at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, in November 2017, yielded a new archive of dozens of items, including interviews with several African American women in their mid-nineties. Among the rare and important findings is a studio portrait taken by pioneering photographer James P. Newton, the first professional black photographer in Memphis who operated a studio on Beale Street.

Photo 2
Studio Portrait of Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret taken by James P. Newton around 1900 in Memphis Tennessee. Newton was the first professional black photographer in Memphis. Jarret was a teacher born near Saulsbury, Tennessee who left a legacy to her family of the importance of education, civic engagement, and the contributions of African Americans to history. Jarret is among the first generation of African American women voters in Tennessee. Image courtesy of Chick History.

“We are excited about the discovery of this studio portrait by James P. Newton, whose work is extremely rare in local archives,” said Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, Professor at the University of Memphis and the Humanities Scholar for Protecting the Legacy. “A historical find like this highlights the vital role women play as everyday archivists of their family and community history.”

Dr. Jenkins was the first to identify the photograph as a rare example of Newton’s early work. The photograph, taken around 1900, is a studio portrait of Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret, a teacher born near Saulsbury, Tennessee. Her portrait was part of broader issues around race and representation at the turn of the century. Newton was central to visually documenting the achievements of black Americans like Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret and transforming the visual representation of African Americans as they strived for full citizenship and political enfranchisement. Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret was among the first generation of African American woman voters in Tennessee.

Photo 1
Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, left, takes notes and listens while Hattie Yarbrough, right, talks about her aunt, Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret. Mrs. Yarbrough was among participants who brought in family photographs and letters to the November 2017 Chick History Digitization Event at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Among the material she brought in was a studio portrait of her aunt taken by James P. Newton, the first black professional photographer in Memphis whose work is extremely rare. Image courtesy of Chick History.

“The Newton photograph is just one of the histories we hope to discover and preserve with this project,” said Rebecca Price, Chick History’s president and CEO. “The existence of the photograph in a family collection serves as a poignant reminder that our personal family histories are inevitably part of something bigger and worthy of preservation. It also demonstrates the urgent need to capture these local histories before they are lost.”

Protecting the Legacy is the second phase of March to the 19th, a five-year project organized by the Nashville-based women’s history nonprofit, Chick History, in partnership with Humanities Tennessee. March to the 19th is a multi-stage initiative dedicated to commemorating the upcoming centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 2020.

In addition to the three-day digitization event in May, Chick History will host a community meeting at Fort Negley Visitor Center in Nashville on March 24 from 2-4 p.m. for the public to learn more about the project. For more information, visit http://www.protect.chickhistory.org or call 615-913-2513.

Protecting the Legacy in Middle Tennessee is generously funded by a grant by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee made possible through funds from the Ida F. Cooney Fund for the Arts and the Marguerite Miller Trost Memorial Fund for the Advancement of the Teaching of American History.

About Chick History: Founded in 2015, Chick History is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding history one story at a time by focusing on women’s history, educational programming, and community outreach. Chick History is committed to preserving and interpreting all women’s histories and experiences through its unique programs and community-driven projects. For more information, visit http://www.chickhistory.org.

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