Museum holds untold stories of Memphis before Civil Rights movement

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - We were given an exclusive look at one of the largest collections of photographs depicting everyday African American life in Memphis before the Civil Rights Movement this week.

It is a treasure trove of unseen photographs now getting much deserved attention thanks to an exhibit downtown.

Mobile users: Click here to look at the pictures.

Thumbing through thousands of negatives, Judy Peiser holds in her hands the untold stories of a distinctive era in Memphis.

The collection of photos personifies the pride African Americans had despite oppressive circumstances.

"In the 20s it was pretty unusual for people--especially African American people--to decide that photography was something they wanted to do," Peiser said.

Revered L.O. Taylor, single-handedly captured daily life in the South preceding the Civil Rights movement.

"He was a great writer, a great orator, but he had a love of documenting things," Peiser said.

Rarely seen, his photos are on exhibit in Downtown Memphis at the Center for Southern Folklore located off Main Street.

"We have in the collection, 7,000 negatives that he shot of everyday people," Peiser said.

Photos show everyday people at weddings, baptisms, children at school, young couples hugging on a bench, a group of women huddled on a classic car.

"I love the children's pictures, I love the families. I love the way, most importantly, he had a way with people," said Peiser. "If you look at the photographs, they speak to you."

Reverend Taylor's photos told a tale of troubles and triumphs of African Americans living in Memphis through poverty and progress.

He would charge a quarter to show his work, but for the people who saw themselves on display, the experience was priceless.

"I think that he would be happy to know that this collection was preserved," Peiser said.

Reverend Taylor died in 1977.

Peiser who grew up a friend of the family, helped Taylor's wife secure his treasures.

"We had some money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and we were able to give her a nice honorarium," she said.

The Center for Southern Folklore is on a mission to continue what Reverend Taylor set out to do: inspire Black excellence.

"Hopefully the photographs that we've got...can make the connections, so that people can understand--especially African American children--the important heritage that they have in the community," Peiser said.

If you think one of your family members is featured in the photos contact the Center for Southern Folklore at 901-525-3655 or click here.

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