University of North Carolina Acquires Photographic Black History Archive

University of North Carolina Acquires Photographic Black History Archive

The University of North Carolina’s Wilson Special Collections Library has acquired the Ronald L. Freeman Collections. 

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that the new collection is a gift from the Kohler Foundation, which supports education and the arts. Ronald L. Freeman’s collection will be part of UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection and will be available for research purposes later this year, The Journal reported. 

“Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1936, Ronald Freeman was inspired to become a photographer after participating in the 1963 March on Washington,” The Journal wrote. “His career led him to photograph landmark events, such as the unrest following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign ‘Mule Train’ March on Washington, and Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the United States.” 

The collection contains work conducted by Freeman throughout his career, which spans over five decades. Freeman documented, but was not limited to, folk art, Black communities, and public figures. The new collection at UNC contains 24,000 slides, 10,000 photographs, 400,000 negatives, and 9,000 contact sheets as well as publications and an archive of Freeman’s papers, The Journal reported. 

“The Southern Folklife Collection is deeply honored and excited to preserve and provide access to Roland Freeman’s photographic archive,” Steve Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection, said, cited by The Journal. “Freeman’s research and documentation of African American Folklife is innovative in its collaborative methodology and a landmark in the study of African American quilters. His collection will be an invaluable resource for students, historians, folklorists, documentary filmmakers, and many more groups.”

Folk culture, arguably made popular by Zora Neale Hurston, is very popular in the Deep South. Some of the most recent research surrounding folk culture comes from Jamil W. Drake, Assistant Professor of Religion at Florida State University. His recent book, To Know The Soul of a People: Religion, Race, and the Making of Southern Folk shows how social scientists framed folk culture as a way to prove negative stereotypes that have consistently plagued Blacks.