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Picturing Black History’ pairs Getty Images’ archives with historical analysis to educate the public on important moments and forgotten figures in Black history. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Ahern/Getty Images

When the small Ohio town of Hillsboro stalled its desegregation efforts and left its Black residents with a shoddy school building in 1954, photographers captured mothers and their children taking to the streets and marching over two years — fighting for integration. 

Through a collaboration between Getty Images and Ohio State’s “Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective,” the project “Picturing Black History” details the past and envisions the future of Black history. Damarius Johnson, a doctoral student in African history and associate editor of “Picturing Black History,” said the small-town activism of Black families and the slow activation of Brown v. Board of Education are some of the many often-forgotten stories now added to the historical record through the project. 

“One of the things that ‘Picturing Black History’ is designed to do is to tell lesser-known stories about Black history through the images that are available in Getty Images’ archives,” Johnson said. 

The project, which went live online in July, presents readers with new contexts and untold perspectives on major moments in Black history in the U.S., Johnson said. Featured authors and historians dissect the Getty Images photos and contextualize the historical events depicted, Daniela Edmeier, a doctoral student in modern European history and managing editor of Picturing Black History, said. 

Getty Images’ photo archivists navigated their digital and analogue files to highlight the best content for this project based on Ohio State’s suggestions, Bob Ahern, director of archive for Getty Images, said. Only 1 percent of Getty Images’ analogue files have been digitized so far, so research for “Picturing Black History” allows Getty Images to bring more material to light, Ahern said.

“One of the wonderful benefits of opening up such an enormous collection of photographs to specialists is that we’re able to ensure that such content can be spotlighted and contextualized in a way that we simply cannot achieve alone,” Ahern said. “It also helps us navigate and target content within our offline files, too, so that we can ensure it truly becomes part of the available historical record.”

Johnson said studying the past with projects like “Picturing Black History” is valuable because it creates a “playbook” for current political movements. He said that with this project, readers can learn from the “highlight reels” of the past and apply the best tactics of previous political movements to similar circumstances in the present. 

“What was the Black Lives Matter of 1970, or 1960, or 1920? And what did these people think was possible, how did they strategize, how did they resist the challenges they faced in their time?” Johnson said. “Everyone is looking to the past in these resistance movements.”

Edmeier said “Picturing Black History” also aims to curate stories that explore diversity within the Black community, such as examining Afro Cuban history in the essay “African Americans, Anti-Racism, and Cuba.” Edmeier is Costa Rican, and she said Latino and Afro Latino history are personally significant to her. 

“Seeing how Afro Latinos are erased from both Black history and Latinx history in the United States is something troubling to me,” Edmeier said. “Black history is dynamic and intersectional, and it’s found in places that have been previously overlooked.”

Johnson said “Picturing Black History” was intended to function as a resource for teachers and educators, especially for lessons on local or Ohio history. Students will be able to access stories that may not be present in their curriculum.

Johnson said as he sees current efforts to restrict the teaching of history and controversial topics in K-12 education in the U.S., “Picturing Black History” serves as a free and accessible supplement for students’ fractured learning in some states. 

“When these students find themselves in college classrooms, the university has to be the place that fills in the gaps and teaches these stories that were at risk and unavailable in earlier stages of education,” Johnson said. 

Edmeier said teaching and documenting history have never been politically neutral. She said as readers learn more about the past with projects like “Picturing Black History,” they will see that protests of modern issues like police brutality have an extensive historical precedent. 

Slogans used now, like “No justice, no peace,” were used by protesters in 1992 after police officers were acquitted after the beating of Rodney King, and the Communist Party protested with “End police brutality” picket signs in the 1930s, she said.

Despite the same forms of oppression occurring throughout America’s past, the younger generation may fail to see how far back the problem goes due to the intentional repression of history in education, Edmeier said.

“These issues always feel new, and people say, ‘Oh wow, we didn’t know this was happening,’” Edmeier said. “That’s because people don’t want you to know that it’s happening.”

Edmeier said future stories with “Picturing Black History” will center on joyful moments, and Johnson said his next work with the project will feature important figures in Black history. 

“Part of the innovation and the uniqueness of this project is that visual element to it,” Edmeier said. “You’re able to read something and understand it, but seeing photo evidence or a visual narrative reinforces the veracity of the content of the essays.”

This content was originally published here.

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