I find one of the remarkable things about portraiture is the ability to observe individuals just like us in a time so different. A sparkle in the eyes or tilt of the head can feel so familiar. Whether it be the portrait of a family member or of someone with a common cultural heritage, the image can be a way to connect with the past and relate to those who came before us.
As February is African American History month, it seems apropos to shine a light on one of our major collections that features portraits of African Americans. Acquired in 1995, the William A. Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs provides nearly 350 images showing African Americans and related military and social history. The collection primarily covers the Civil War era, with a few examples through 1945.
Probably one of the most recognizable items in the collection is a portrait of abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth (see right). The collection also draws public interest for its holdings of Buffalo Soldiers, freed slaves, and World War I soldiers, to name a few. Various scenes of homes and war grounds add context to the portraits, as well. Below, take a look at a range of compelling images selected from the collection by Prints and Photographs Division staff:
You can browse nearly 350 faces and places from the past, as the entire Gladstone collection is digitized and available in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Do you connect with any Gladstone images in particular?
- Explore beyond the Gladstone Collection with a summary of Prints & Photographs Division resources for the study of African American history, including search tips.
- Take a look at the current African American History Month portal, which highlights resources at the Library of Congress and other institutions.
- Browse related image lists from our collections, including: