Jasper, Texas: The Hidden Half of a Small Texas Town

Parade, 1950s

J.H. Rowe High School Marching Band Led by Annie Clyde Dacus, ca. 1958-59

Jesse Brook (Second From Left) and Others Dancing, 1950s

Wedding Preparations, Bonnie Mitchell and Her Sister Ida Mae Mitchell, 1957

James Byrd Jr. (central portrait), 1967 Graduate of J. H. Rowe High School

Jasper, Texas: The Hidden Half of a Small Texas Town

In 1998, the small East Texas town of Jasper was shaken by the brutal, racially motivated killing of a forty-nine-year old African American named James Byrd Jr. The international coverage of that traumatic race-crime did not, for the most part, reveal the stark past and complicated social life of this historically segregated community. For example, little notice was paid to the photographs of Alonzo Jordan (1903-1984), a local photographer who had made Byrd’s high school graduation portrait, and who had worked for more than forty years to document African Americans in Jasper and in the surrounding rural areas. Jordan’s photographs are the subject of an exhibition, Jasper, Texas: The Community Photographs of Alonzo Jordan, presently on view at The International Center of Photography in New York City from January 21 to May 8, 2011.

Like many small-town photographers, Alonzo Jordan fulfilled various roles in the community. A barber by trade, Alonzo Jordan was also a Prince Hall Mason, a deacon in his church, an educator and a local leader, who took up photography to fill a social need he recognized. Over the years, he chronicled the everyday world of black East Texas, especially the civic events and social rituals that were integral to the daily life of the people he served. In addition to revealing the African American culture of Jasper during the Civil Rights era, this exhibition challenges existing formalistic approaches to the study of vernacular photography. It considers Jordan’s distinguished career as a “community photographer.”

In communities across the nation, photographs of this kind have been proudly displayed for decades in people’s homes, local churches, businesses, civic buildings and schools, because they document groups and individuals who are held in high esteem. Frequently, the photographer is not identified or credited, because the emphasis is upon the family, social and professional groups, and the recognition of the community infrastructure.

Jasper’s Journey: The Life of James Byrd Jr.

Slide Show: Jasper, Texas/The Hidden Half of a Small Texas Town

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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