The Obsidian Collection of Digitized Images Depicting African American Life Launches on Google Arts & Culture

Children at fire hydrant (Chicago Defender Archives)

The Obsidian Collection of digitized images depicting African American history, arts and culture debuts on Google Arts & Culture with eight virtual exhibits featuring nearly 140 images of iconic people, places and events from the 1940s through 1980s rescued from newspaper archives and other sources. These hidden gems, including rare images of famed boxer Joe Louis, Maxwell Street and black people enjoying Chicago’s summer festival scene, can be accessed worldwide, in perpetuity, thanks to a partnership between Google Arts & Culture and Obsidian Collection founder and Executive Director Angela Ford. The Chicago-based entrepreneur, black history buff and tech enthusiast is on a mission to save and share rarely viewed images captured by the nation’s black press.

The virtual exhibits can be viewed in a few clicks at The Obsidian Collection Archives – Google Arts & Culture.

For The Obsidian Collection launch, Ford chose images from the archives of the Chicago Defender newspaper and 14 provided by Shorefront Legacy, a 23-year-old nonprofit archival collection of images and artifacts depicting black life on Chicago’s Gold Coast, North Shore and Evanston, IL. In addition to historic figures, the exhibits show black Chicagoans in daily life, dressed in their finest clothes and spending time with friends and family.

Among the gems:

  •         Fred Hutcherson: The Self-Taught Aviator. Hutcherson, the first black man to fly across the Atlantic, was a pilot instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen. Unable to enter flight schools in America, he learned to fly large aircraft in Canada and settled in Evanston.
  •         Joe Louis, Outside the Ring depicts the boxer in the Army, golfing and with his namesake products Joe Louis Milk and Joe Louis Bourbon.
  •       Harold Washington: The First Black Mayor of Chicago shows Washington performing his mayoral duties and attending community events. In one image, a young Carol Moseley Braun, later to become the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, was originally cropped out of the photo.
  •         Chicago Housewares Show of 1959. Unable to shop in major retail stores, the black middle class peruse the latest trends in appliances and automobiles.

“There is a treasure trove of historical and culturally significant images that have been hidden away in the archives of our nation’s black newspapers, magazines and research papers for decades. Before these gems are lost or forgotten, I believe that it is important to preserve our rich history so that youth can see African Americans depicted positively and authentically,” said Ford, who describes herself as a modern-day Griot of African American stories. “Back in the ’40s and ’50s, black people were dressed to the nines – even if you didn’t have a lot of money in those days, you still took pride in self-image and in community. I invite people to go back in time, re-live it or learn about it. But most of all, use the Obsidian Collection and share it with others.”

The Obsidian Collection was incubated at Ford’s TAG Foundation and has benefitted from the support of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and Democracy Fund.  TAG Foundation is a local community and neighborhood nonprofit that services Chicago’s black communities.

Ford is in the process of gaining access to photo archives of black newspapers in Detroit, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. “The Obsidian Collection is only going to grow,” Ford said.

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