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Tuesday, October 16, 2012


On June, 28th, 1947 at the 38th annual NAACP Conference, Robert S. Scurlock took two photographs of an African American woman speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  In the absence of an original title, the catalloguer supplied the descriptive caption, “African American woman at microphone, addressing crowd at Lincoln Memorial, with Pres. Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt standing nearby.”
38th annual NAACP Conference, 1947: rally on steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Photograph by Robert S. Scurlock, Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center 
Many questions arise:  Who is this woman?  What is her story? Why didn't the African American photographer Scurlock identify this woman by name, rather than simply through her association with Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt, two of the dignitaries in her audience?

Speaker at 38th annual NAACP Conference, 1947, standing in front of Lincoln statue, Lincoln Memorial.
Photograph by Robert S. Scurlock, Scurlock Studio Records, NMAH Archives Center.

These photographs, like all archival material, pose a question and every answer opens up a host of other questions.  Archival materials are in conversation with one another, and sometimes a simple identification can point to a story that has been overlooked or lost from our collective memory. These documents of American life, however incomplete, are the pieces from which we can make sense of the multitude of American experiences.   Unidentified documents are the hidden historical treasures, the stories that have yet to be told.  With the help of volunteer consultant Ellen David, we have identified Walter White and Tom Clark as two of the people standing behind this woman on the steps.  We are posting these photographs in hopes that someone may be knowledgeable about the event and its participants or can provide information that can help with her identification.
Miriam Mosher, Smith College Intern
Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

The woman in these photos was successfully identified by Smithsonian Staff as contralto Carol Brice

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