African-American Life in the Arkansas Delta: Through the Lens of Rogerline Johnson, 1952-1971
When one contemplates the American South in the era from 1952 to 1971, images of social unrest and strife usually spring to mind. Documentary photographer Rogerline Johnson gives us images from behind the scenes of strife during this era, as he records African-Americans of the Arkansas delta engaged in everyday social, religious, and educational events.
Their work day and leisure hours are recorded, as is their dignity, fortitude, and love of life. These images reveal a community that is strong and enveloping, an anchor in a social storm.
Rogerline Johnson was born in Columbus, Ark. (Hempstead County), and graduated from the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1948. He then taught science and coached football in Marianna and Lake View high schools before giving up teaching to pursue his love of photography. Although entirely self-taught, the talented Johnson opened his first photography studio on Columbia Street in Helena in 1952 and operated that business successfully until his death in 1996.
Johnson was an integral part of Helena's civic, economic, cultural and political life. His interest in the community is reflected in his photographs of local people engaged in social, religious and educational events. His archives contain 25,000 black and white negatives taken between 1952 and 1971 that offer a comprehensive view of African-American life in Arkansas delta towns such as Helena, West Helena, Lake View, Elaine and Marianna.
Images from the Johnson archive were selected and prepared for exhibition in 2004 by the Johnson Studio in a project sponsored by the Arkansas Delta African American Historical Society Inc. at Helena and the art department of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The original exhibit of 120 images premiered at UAPB and has since shown throughout the state. The 30 images in this exhibit represent a sampling of those images.
“African American Life in the Arkansas Delta: Through the Lens of Rogerline Johnson, 1952-1971” will show in the public services area of the lobby level of Mullins Library through the end of April.
(Click thumbnail image to enlarge.)