inerant photographer William Bullard left behind a trove of over 5,400 glass negatives at the time of his death in 1918. Among these negatives are over 230 portraits of African Americans and Native Americans mostly from the Beaver Brook community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rediscovering an American Community of Color features eighty of these unprinted and heretofore unpublished photographs that otherwise may have been lost to history. Bullard identified over 80% of his sitters in his logbook, making this collection especially rare among extant photographic collections of people of color taken before World War I and enables this exhibition to tell specific stories about individuals and recreate a more accurate historical context.
Moreover, Bullard’s portraits examine the role of photography as the vehicle for a “new Black identity” during the nascent years of the New Negro movement. Offering a photographic narrative of migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Bullard’s portraits address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today, notably, the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society as well as the fundamentally American story of migration, immigration, and the creation of a community in new surroundings
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897–1917 presents a photographic narrative of African American and Native American migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction. These photographs address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today: the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society and creating a community in new surroundings. William Bullard’s heretofore unpublished collection of more than 230 glass negatives presenting the African American and Nipmuc communities of Worcester, Massachusetts, at the turn of the century provides an exceptional opportunity to significantly deepen our understanding of the use of photography at a political and personal level. Unlike most extant photographic collections of black Americans taken in this period, the subjects in Bullard’s photographs are identified in his logbook, allowing this book to tell specific stories about individuals and re-create a more accurate historical context. Predating the Great Migration, these photographs portray a moment seldom stressed in the historical narrative, replacing stereotypical notions of poverty and dysfunction with accomplishment and respectability.
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