Laurence Erwin Allen, founder of the African American history photo collective Image Library, dies at 94

The post “5 Million+” first appeared on the early black Washington News Daily.

For more than 30 years, my father was a black journalist.

Why? A newspaper editor told him that he wouldn’t be able to find any of his pictures.

“I don’t know any blacks on staff” when he arrived at the Washington Daily Press in Washington, D.C., in 1936, 75 years ago this month, his son Laurence wrote recently in a tribute posted to the magazine Black History Month.

“The black language was considered the most unpolished and powerful in the country, and was not even allowed on the editorial pages.”

My father, who documented the city’s black power struggle and subsequent explosion as a photographer, was an anomaly in newsrooms of the day — and still is to this day.

After founding a photography school at Howard University, he wrote several books about his experiences as a journalist and advocated for black journalists as federal government support tapered off and newspapers remained targeted as a costly medium for the government.

And he kept on.

“He did this by building an arsenal of equipment and transforming his garage into a workshop. He even constructed his own photographic gear. At the same time, he understood that working in a newsroom, even as a black photographer, would be a constant struggle. Blacks were seen as unprofessional, aggressive and impulsive,” Laurence wrote.

“His goal, he believed, was to do whatever it took to provide photographic evidence of the political and social injustices black people suffered.”

By the time I was a teenager, my father had retired. Even then, he kept bringing home photos.

On one assignment, he returned to a school newspaper office to find two white editors — one a historian, the other a religious person — reading his stories about the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950s.

Though I didn’t know what they were reading, the resulting headlines offended me. So I went home to write a rebuttal, all the while keeping the editors at the Daily Press in the dark.

But when I do the school newspaper now, I no longer feel the need to correct the white editors. Because when I see the accompanying photos, I can’t help but be moved by his work and happy he had the courage to do it.

Leave a Comment