Robert H. McNeill
Addison Scurlock was the premier photographer in Washington for half a century. It was said that if he didn't take your picture at a wedding, you weren't married. Every school called Scurlock for its class pictures. Robert H. McNeill, still a younger photographer at the time, says he used to watch what Scurlock did and tried to emulate him.
Born in North Carolina, Addison Scurlock moved to Washington DC in 1900, at the age of seventeen, to become an apprentice to photographer Moses P. Rice. That experience started a photographic career that spanned six decades in Washington. He opened his own studio in 1911 at 9th and U streets, just a few blocks from his home on 12th and T.
Scurlock's pictures documented how black Washington's elite middle class lived; everything from religion to fashion. He chronicled a dignified society, proud of its high standards, its traditions, and institutions. Having one's picture in Scurlock's studio was a mark of true social status in the community and black Americans would travel across the country to have their portraits taken by him.
In the 1930's and 40's, any time there was a political, social, religious or community event in Washington's black community, Robert H. McNeill was there to photograph it. He was born in 1917 in Washington DC, the son of a prominent doctor and a school teacher, and grew up in the Shaw neighborhood on the 1400 block of T Street. He became interested in photography at a young age, after observing a demonstration on developing photographs. He joined a camera club at the 12th Street YMCA and took pictures for the Dunbar High School paper. McNeill attended Howard University as a pre-med student for a few years, but eventually left for the New York Photography Institute.
One year later, he returned to Washington and set up a free lance business out of his father's house on T Street. Later, he moved to a studio on 13th and U Streets. As a free lancer, he was expected to know where the action was and get the pictures of interest to the newspaper readers. He would often photograph famous entertainers and sports figures as well as civil protests and political appointments. Some of McNeill's notable subjects include Joe Lewis, Marion Anderson, and Jesse Owenes.
McNeill did not avoid racial discrimination because of his prestige as a photographer. As a black man in the late 1930's, he was not allowed to buy a ticket at the Earl Theater (now the Warner Theater) or sit in the front of the audience to photograph Bojangles Robinson. But he didn't let that get in the way of his job; he took the picture from the wings of the stage.
Pioneer sportswriter Sam Lacy, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, grew up in Washington, D.C., played semi pro baseball, coached municipal basketball, attended Howard University and performed assorted odd jobs before becoming a professional sportswriter. He became a renowned journalist as well as a civil rights leader.
Lacy's career in journalism began in the 1920s, working as a sports writer at the Washington Tribune under the tutelage of editor Lewis Lautier. He was both managing editor and sports editor of the paper from 1934-1939, before moving to Chicago to become a national editor with the Chicago Defender. He later moved to Baltimore as sports editor and columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.
Lacy, 95, has been "fighting for fairness" for Afro-American athletes for almost 65 years, railing against racism and segregation that prevailed for decades in U.S. sports, courts and legislatures. During his career, Lacy covered the careers of many black athletes including that of Jackie Robinson, and has covered numerous sporting events, including six Olympic games. As a result of his efforts, he has received many awards given by sports, journalism and academic establishments. In 1998, he was inducted into the "writers' wing" of the Baseball Hall of Fame.