Harvard Educational Review
Volume 51, No. 2, May 19, 1981
SOME TIME AGO: A Historical Portrait of Black Americana, 1850 — 1950.
Doubleday,1980. 206 pp
The power of the camera’s lens is reflected in this most recent work of Chester Higgins Jr., and Orde Coombs. Together they take us back through time, beginning with 1850, capturing through photography the spirit and condition of black Americans over the next century. This twelve-section work, the result of four years of intensive research, is drawn from the archives of black colleges, the Library of Congress, private collections, and from the attics of forgotten people.
The story begins with "Those Who Knew Slavery" and traces in the faces of its subjects — known and unknown, rich and poor — their pride and sorrow, glory and trials. This story is also one of photographers like P.H. Polk of Tuskegee and James Vanderzee of Harlem who capture with sensitivity southern rural and northern urban experiences, and like Gordon Parks, who photographic essays are insightful expressions of life in black America. Represented here also are the works of lesser-known photographers — J.P. Ball, Edgar Eugene Phipps, James Latimer Allen, William Donald, and C.M. Battey, for example, all of whom were artists "who knew, intuitively, that the black faces which they captured on film made a statement as old as time itself."