Local New York Times Staffers Publish Book of Stunning “Unseen” Black History Photos


“Go back and re-edit everything.”

Those were the words that renowned New York Times photo editor John Morris said to Glen Ridge’s Darcy Eveleigh prior to his 2017 passing at 100 years old.

Morris was a highly-regarded photo editor at The Times during the ’60s and ’70s when the paper was known as “The Gray Lady” – a nickname it developed in part for its emphasis on printing words over publishing photos.

Being a pivotal character in shaping the face of photojournalism from World War II to the Vietnam War, Morris knew that buried deep in the New York Times archives were hundreds of stunning images from black history in America that had gone unseen to the public eye for long enough.

Eveleigh, a contributing photo editor for the Times, went to the archives and began sifting through tons of crowded bins and musty envelops, unearthing never-before-seen photos of black history during the Civil Rights Movement in America.

“We started to find these extraordinary images of everyday life… less well known sort of things… and those pictures were just as spectacular and the stories behind them not being published were just as fascinating,” Eveleigh said.

5/16/1967 – A man who identified himself as Rev. A. Kendell Smith of Harlem was arrested for burning a Confederate Flag at City Hall Park. He was protesting the “Southern” ways Negroes are treated in New York City. John Orris/The New York Times

Eveleigh was soon joined by Times colleagues Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns of Montclair, and together they began exploring the untold stories of the hundreds of unpublished black history Times photos in a project that culminated with their new book, “Unseen” that was published in October 2017.

Making John Morris Proud

For Swarns, as she worked her way through the archives, she began to realize that the story wasn’t just in the photos of who they were able to find, but in the people that they couldn’t find photos of.

“We couldn’t find a single staff image of W.E.B DuBois, we couldn’t find Romare Bearden,” Eveleigh said echoing Swarns’ sentiments. “We couldn’t find many people and these people were in New York quite frequently… that says a lot too, we didn’t have enormous coverage of people like DuBois, why is that?”

The four colleagues first brought light to the unpublished photos by chronicling the images in a print and online series called “Unpublished Black History” for The Times. After the series garnered millions of views online and thousands of comments from readers, the Times staffers realized the demand for a print book to document some of the most extraordinary pieces of the unpublished collection.

“A lot of people say “was the Times racist?” Eveleigh said. “The answer is, I don’t know. None of us know, we weren’t there, we weren’t alive for this.”

JESSE JACKSON 9/22/1969-“Black Monday,” United Coalition for Community Action rally brought hundreds of black demonstrators to Chicago’s Civic Center to protest trade unions’ alleged practices of discrimination preventing minorities from joining unions. Hundreds of police turned out. Sack 97867. NYTCREDIT: Gary Settle/The New York Times

All the News That’s Fit to Print

With the reputation of being “The Gray Lady” and the slogan of “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” photographs taken by staff photographers and reporters were drastically underused, falling victim to the ideal of print over pictures. In turn, the Civil Rights Movement went significantly underrepresented in the paper.
“Unseen” not only finally unearths these photos, but explores the reasons and asks the questions of why these photos were never published in the first place.

The first photograph in the book’s introduction is a picture of a Martin Luther King Jr. at roundtable event. Eveleigh describes that the story for the photograph never being published is that MLK was egged just hours after the picture was taken during a speech at a church.

“I’m sure editors are screaming ‘where’s the picture?’ and (the photographer) pulls out the portrait but he doesn’t have the egging… so the paper doesn’t run the portrait because it wasn’t the news of the day,” Eveleigh said.

Fire at home of Malcolm X. 2/14/1965 . Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

Some mysteries of why the photos didn’t run cannot be solved. The Times left a stunning photo of Malcolm X’s firebombed home, taken by a staff photographer who had actually walked through the damaged house, unpublished. Instead, the paper ran a wire photo of Malcolm X stepping out of his car in front of his house.

“Looking at the pictures, because the house is burnt down, it was very, very dark… maybe because they were running in news print, the quality of the image wasn’t going to be very good… or maybe they felt it only warranted one picture and that wire picture of Malcolm X told the story for them better than the pictures of the burnt down house,” Eveleigh speculated.

But a choice not to run certain photos cannot always be attributed to a lack of photo space or change in the newsworthiness of a story.

7/30/1964 – Eastern Grass Court Championships, Orange Lawn Tennis Club, South Orange. Arthur Ashe making a return during his match. NYTCREDIT: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The book depicts several instances like this, finally printing these unpublished photos alongside blurbs and discussions exploring why these photos had gone unseen until now.

While some questions to the choices of The Times editors during their coverage of the Civil Rights Movement still remain unanswered, one thing is for certain – John Morris would be proud.

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  1. A great deal of American History is inaccurate and must be corrected because it was written by the “winners” , the elite white racist class and not the American people as a collective whole. Finally, we’re talking about this hijacking because now we have too many true documents coming to light to accept American History’s “whitewashing” as being the nation’s true history. Bringing to light these realities…. like the actions of John Morris and Darcy Eveleigh can seem like a lonely and difficult struggle but it serves to correct what has been a betrayal in our American education and experience. As an American and a historian, I am so grateful to them.

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