Thursday, February 21, 2019

Books: Unpublished Black History From the NY Times In "Unseen"

Unseen: Unpublished Black History From The New York Times Photo Archives
By Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave,and Rachel L. Swarns
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; hardcover, 304 pages; $29.99

Hundreds of stunning images from black history have long been buried in The New York Times archives, and now they are being published.

Unseen uncovers these never-before published photographs and tells the stories behind them.

It all started with Times photo editor Darcy Eveleigh discovering dozens of these photographs. She and three colleagues, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns, began exploring the history behind them, and subsequently chronicling them in a series entitled Unpublished Black History, that ran in print and online editions of The Times in February 2016.

It garnered 1.7 million views on The Times website and thousands of comments from readers. This book includes those photographs and many more, among them: a 27-year-old Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally of in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama a candid behind-the-scenes shot of Aretha Franklin backstage at the Apollo Theater, Ralph Ellison on the streets of his Manhattan neighborhood, the firebombed home of Malcolm X, Myrlie Evans and her children at the funeral of her slain husband , Medgar, a wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella at the razing of Ebbets Field.

Were the photos–or the people in them–not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words at an institution long known as the Gray Lady? Eveleigh, Canedy, Cave, and Swarms explore all these questions and more in this one-of-a-kind book.

Swarms writes in the introduction, "The illuminate stories that were never told in the newspaper and others that have been mostly forgotten. Yet as you look at these images and read the stories behind them, you may find yourself wondering, as we did: How did they languish unseen for so long?
"Were the photographs - or the people in them - not deemed newsworthy enough? Did they not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words at an institution long known as the Gray Lady, or by the biases of editors, whether intentional or unintentional?
"The reality is that all these factors probably contributed.
"As journalists, we strive for objectivity and impartiality as we question and portray the world around us. Yet we rarely turn the lens on ourselves. At a time when concerns about the persistence of the racial divide simmer across the country, it is worth considering how we as an institution have depicted African-Americans in our pages and, at times, erased them from view,
"The New York Times is known today as a leader in photography, with a team of staffers and freelancers who bring vivid pictures to our readers from war zones in Afghanistan and the Middle East, elementary schools in Harlem and county fairs during the hotly contested presidential campaigns. The newspaper has won nine Pulitzer Prizes for photography, seven of them in the 2000s. But we have not always valued images so highly."

Unseen dives deep into The Times photo archives–known as the Morgue–to showcase this extraordinary collection of photographs and the stories behind them.

The essays in this book are incredible and shine a light on New York City history that might be forgotten. One of them, written by Damien Cave, focuses on the downfall of Brownsville in the 1960s and '70s:
"Brownsville's reputation as an urban failure began at least as far back as the 1940s with a popular novel, The Amboy Dukes, about a rough and tumble gang of hooligans in this area in the middle of Brooklyn. But what really defined it was what followed: white flight and fires and property abandonment, creating the urban wasteland captured here in this photo by Barton Silverman from 1972. (a street marked by dilapidated cars)
"Just a few years earlier, The Times reported, only four percent of the apartments in Brownsville were considered up to standard. Success was harder to find than vermin. One woman told a reporter that her daughter was calling 'Here kitty, here kitty' to a rat the size of a cat.
"'If there is a hell,' said Vincent Negron, director of the Good Shepherd Mission Center, in that same article from March 7, 1968, 'many people in Brownsville will take it in stride.'
"These days it's hard to imagine any section of Brooklyn so bereft and empty, but Brownsville's demise came at a tough time, when federal, state and local government seized on empty lots and concentrated poverty in overlooked areas that tended to be black and Latino. So even today in Brownsville, housing projects still dominate. In fact, no area of the country has a higher concentration of public housing.
"As a result, Brownsville's rates of poverty are still among the highest in New York City.
"Even as it has improved in many ways, including its outward appearance - Amboy Street today has trees and newer buildings and far more energy - the area continues to be associated with trouble. Instead of the Amboy Dukes, it is now known as the place that produced one of the world's meanest, most feared brawlers: Mike Tyson.
"'I grew up in the streets.' he said, in an interview with The Times in 1997, soon after biting the ear of Evander Holyfield. 'I fought my way out.'"

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