Unpublished Black History

Allyn Baum/The New York Times

An Introduction: Photographing Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds of stunning images from black history, drawn from old negatives, have long been buried in the musty envelopes and crowded bins of the New York Times archives. 

None of them was published by The Times until now.
Were the photos — or the people in them — not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words here at an institution long known as the Gray Lady? 

As you scroll through the images, each will take you back: To the charred wreckage of Malcolm X’s house in Queens, just hours after it was bombed. To the Lincoln Memorial, where thousands of African-American protesters gathered, six years before the March on Washington. To Lena Horne’s elegant penthouse on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. To a city sidewalk where schoolgirls jumped rope, while the writer Zora Neale Hurston cheered them on, behind the scenes. 

Photographers for The Times captured all of these scenes, but then the pictures and negatives were filed in our archives, where they sat for decades. 

This month, we present a robust selection for the very first time.
Every day during Black History Month, we will publish at least one of these photographs online, illuminating stories that were never told in our pages and others that have been mostly forgotten. 

Among them are images of confrontations between the police and demonstrators, including a rally that erupted in violence after the assassination of Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader. 

There are pioneers in Hollywood and hip-hop and in the ballpark, as well as ordinary people savoring daily life. And there are prominent figures, such as James Baldwin and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in photographs with stories of their own. 

Consider the close-up of Dr. King above. It is the only photo in this project that has been previously published; it has appeared many times over the past 50 years, as the backside of the print clearly shows, and it looks as if it might have been taken during a formal sitting. 

But it was shot during the summer of 1963 on a day when black protesters hurled eggs at Dr. King as he arrived at a church in Harlem. Earlier that day, he criticized black nationalists, saying that those who called for a separate black state were “wrong.” Some believed that those remarks inspired the attack that night.

Our photographer snapped Dr. King’s picture as he participated in a round table that was broadcast on NBC. The photo below, unpublished until now, captured that discussion. (Click on the image for a larger view, and to scroll through the other photos.)

Credit Allyn Baum/The New York Times

Sometime later, an editor cropped one of those images from the NBC appearance to create the head shot of Dr. King that is now so familiar and so disconnected from the tumultuous events of that day.
Many of these photographs, and their stories, are equally intriguing. But the collection is far from comprehensive. There are gaps, for many reasons.

We had a small staff of photographers — the first was hired sometime after 1910 — and nearly all of them were based in New York City. As a result, most staff photographs depicted events in New York and places nearby, though The Times also bought pictures from freelancers and studios in other parts of the country and overseas. (The Times’s picture agency, Wide World News Photo Service, which had staff members in London, Berlin and elsewhere, was sold to The Associated Press in 1941.) 

More than now, we also put a premium back then on words, not pictures, which meant that many photographs that were taken were never published.

But other holes in coverage probably reflect the biases of some earlier editors at our news organization, long known as the newspaper of record. They and they alone determined who was newsworthy and who was not, at a time when black people were marginalized in society and in the media.

In our archive of roughly five million prints, after weeks of searching, we could not find a single staff photograph of W.E.B. Du Bois; of Romare Bearden, one of the country’s pre-eminent artists; or of Richard Wright, the influential author of “Native Son” and “Black Boy.” (The Times did publish a handful of photographs of these men taken by freelancers, friends or private studios.) 

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