For more than a century, photographs have been used to record our history—our lives, our pain, our triumphs. And in Black America, as complicated as that past has been, the documentation of these events has given credit to our existence and contributions in this country. If a single picture is worth a thousand words, a collection is worth an infinite number of untold stories, unmentioned memories, and lingering accounts that add to the history of Black people at any given time and place.
This week, visual media company Getty Images unlocked the door to many of these treasured moments in history by releasing a slew of new photos from the archives of HBCUs. The “Historically Black Colleges & Universities Collection” already contains a myriad of archival photos from Claflin University, Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University and Prairie View A&M University and there are plans for this digitization project to include up to 200,000 by the end of 2022.
"As we make some important steps toward changing the level of diversity and representation of all communities and content creators represented in our collections, this is a pivotal moment for Getty Images,” Cassandra Illidge, VP of Partnerships for Getty Images tells EBONY. “We acknowledge that the photography industry has historically not worked from an accepting and unbiased gaze. Archival content, in particular, has not been representative of the unique and impactful contributions of the Black community.”
The four aforementioned HBCUs were selected by Getty to receive a photo archive grant. In partnership with the Getty Family and Stand Together, a philanthropic community tackling some of the biggest challenges of our times, $500,000 was given to support the digitization of these schools’ archival photos.
"The photography industry has historically not worked from an accepting and unbiased gaze. Archival content, in particular, has not been representative of the unique and impactful contributions of the Black community."Cassandra Illidge, VP of Partnerships for Getty Images
“The Getty Images Photo Archive Grant was created to support the legacy and educational excellence fostered by HBCUs,” says Illidge. “The grant supports the work of these institutions by making their photo archives more accessible and provides a realistic look at decades of Black Culture and campus life. There are visual stories that need to be told and photographers at HBCUs who need to be celebrated.”
Not only does the archival project support the legacy of HBCUs, Illidge adds that it also honors the vast history of these schools and their contributions to American history. HBCUs have been responsible for educating Black students since the early 19th century, giving bright students an opportunity to learn and grow. These centers of excellence have groomed statesmen and women, business owners, philosophers, medical professionals, engineers, and more. Today they continue to stand as a testament to the fortitude and strength shown by our ancestors.
Illidge says that the four HBCUs selected for the inaugural grant were “extremely impressive,” and they hope to be able to extend their involvement with these storied institutions. “We are excited to continue partnering with organizations who want to lend their support to HBCUs visual history and the work of their archivists and librarians.”
View select photos from Getty Images' The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Collection below.