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Reflections in Black and White

Exhibit on view: May 15, 2015 - May 2017
Photo: Bride and groom kissing, 1967, Gift of Henrietta Adams (1992.163.0085)
Photo: Group of young men, 1957, Gift of Michelle Masson (2012.040.0089)

Cape Fear Museum’s newest in-house exhibition, Reflections in Black and White, features a selection of informal black and white photographs taken by black and white Wilmingtonians after World War II before the Civil Rights movement helped end legalized segregation. Visitors will have a chance to compare black and white experiences and reflect on what people’s lives were like in the region during the latter part of the Jim Crow era.

Examine mid-century cameras and photographic equipment and experience the “thrill” of opening a replica camera store photo envelope, a rare experience in today’s digital world. Flip through some recreated pages from Claude Howell’s scrapbooks, and take your own photograph in a 1950s setting.

Reflections in Black and White features selections from four large photographic collections:

  • African American photographer Herbert Howard was a postal worker, a member of the NAACP, and a semi-professional photographer. Cape Fear Museum has a collection of more than 1,000 images he took documenting Wilmington’s black community.
  • Artist Claude Howell left an extensive collection of scrapbooks to the Museum. The albums include hundreds of pages with photographs of Howell’s friends, local scenery, and people.
  • Student nurse Elizabeth Ashworth attended the James Walker Memorial Hospital School of Nursing right after World War II. Her photographs provide a glimpse of a group of young white women’s lives in the late 1940s.
  • In 2012, the Museum acquired a collection of photos that were taken in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and left at the Camera Shop, a downtown business that was a fixture from the late 1910s through the early 1980s.

Historian Jan Davidson explained why the concept behind the exhibit: “The different historical images speak to each other in some fascinating ways. Most of us can see our own lives reflected in the images, We all eat, hang out with friends, and many of us have taken silly pictures of ourselves or our loved ones. These images show our common humanity, and allow us to relate to people in the past as we might relate to a friend.”

Cape Fear Museum hopes the exhibit will spark reflection and conversation about the history of race relations.  Davidson states, “When you look at these images as a group, they give us a chance to reflect on how legally-sanctioned racial segregation helped shape people’s daily lives. We want today’s visitors to have a chance to imagine what it felt like to live in a world where Jim Crow laws and attitudes deeply affected the textures of daily life.”

814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382