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February 3, 2016

New York Times runs never-before-published photos for Black History Month

Essential question

Why do we observe Black History Month in the United States?

The New York Times has published a collection of never-before-seen photographs that help fill in the overall portrait of African-American culture and history.

The newspaper staff dug through their archives of more than five million photos and 300,000 negatives and found images ranging from Malcolm X’s apartment after it was firebombed to rapper Run-D.M.C. to the famed Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston cheering on schoolgirls as they jumped rope.

There are a few reasons why these photos were never published, according to New York Times metro columnist Rachel Swarns, who led the project. In addition to the Times being small-staffed and the limited use of photography at the time, Swarns said social climate played a role as well.

“We have also really got to be frank and honest and acknowledge that this was a time period when African-Americans were marginalized in media,” Swarns said.

The New York Times will publish images daily throughout Black History Month.

Key terms

archive — a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution or group of people

negative — a photographic image made on film or specially prepared glass that shows the light and shade or color values reversed from the original, and from which positive prints can be made

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What is the role of newspapers in documenting history?
  2. Why are photographs of the past significant today?
  3. During Black History Month, why do we look back on the accomplishments of African-Americans?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. What does the fact that such a large number of unpublished, historical photographs featuring African-Americans exists say about the time in which they were taken?
  2. Why do you think Rachel Swarns and others at the New York Times decided this was an important project?
  3. What might people in the future learn about our society by finding photos from today?
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