These Photos of a Segregated U.S. Navy Unit Were Lost for Decades. They Still Have a Story to TellBreaking News
tags: military history, segregation, African American history, photographs, World War 2
There are many ways to photograph a black person, and it’s easy for things to go horribly wrong. America’s long history of racist imagery makes that quite clear. Wayne Miller, a white man, was notable for doing it right. In the mid-20th century, a time when American visual culture was suffused with photographs that reinforced demeaning notions about black people, Miller created deeply empathetic images with a understated, yet unmistakable anti-racist intent. He made his best known photographs of African Americans on Chicago’s South Side, between 1946 and 1948. But they were not his first.
In 1944 and 1945, while serving as a U.S. Navy photographer, he created a photographic series about a segregated all-black unit that was assigned to the Naval Supply Depot on Guam. The men called their unit “Pot Luck,” and that was the name that Miller gave to the book that he planned to publish about them. The book never appeared; its maquette, or mock-up, was lost until 2018, when one of Miller’s daughters rediscovered it. And what she found, images from which are published here for the first time, reveals a gifted young photographer grappling with the complexities of race in American culture.
By 1945, when Miller made his Pot Luck photographs, which appear in the maquette alongside text that he wrote to accompany them, African Americans had long been irresistible objects of white curiosity. Racist ideologies created ways of seeing that made black life seem exotic and threatening — something to be explored and explained. Generations of white photographers had met the demand for images of black people, often by making images that reproduced ugly stereotypes of black inferiority.
comments powered by Disqus
- New Statue Unsettles Italian City: Is It Celebrating a Poet or a Nationalist?
- A Charter School Gets Canceled for Wanting to Teach Indigenous History
- The 1969 Documentary That Tried to Humanize Queen Elizabeth II and The Royal Family
- The 96-Year-History of the Equal Rights Amendment
- The Amazon Rainforest under Threat
- An interview with historian James Oakes on the New York Times’ 1619 Project
- Historian Jeffrey Engel Takes Listener Questions On Impeachment Inquiry on NPR's All Things Considered
- 5 Historians on What Was Truly Unprecedented in This Week’s Impeachment Hearings
- Teaching impeaching: History comes to life in school as teachers seize on this historic moment. Here’s what some are doing — and how.
- Smithsonian Elevates the Frequently Ignored Histories of Women