Scurlock and Sons: Beautiful Black D.C.

Flickr: Libenne

Young ladies watching a football game at Griffith stadium, from the 2009 Scurlock exhibit at the Smithsonian. The Scurlock family operated a famed U Street studio, which was known for its elegant work.

It feels appropriate to look at black and white pictures of Washington’s past, when it is so gray outside. Luckily, the Left for LeDroit blog is offering up a series of fascinating images, taken by esteemed African American photographer Addison Scurlock, who, with his sons Robert and George, ran a successful studio on U Street NW, which was “one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington”.

The National Museum of American History is working hard to protect the vast Scurlock collection of pictures, many of which captured important parts of D.C.’s black history. Left for LeDroit deserves much credit for inspiring a delightful online journey which taught me a lot about this family and their beautiful work.

The Post had this to say about the Scurlocks, in a review of their exhibit at the Smithsonian back in 2009:

Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Marian Anderson praised the Scurlock crew, but so did students over at Howard University, when that institution was a place for the children of the nation’s black elite. And countless men and women from the city’s black middle class, who took high tea, held soirees, staged book readings and vacationed over on Maryland beaches, depended on them as well.

The style of their work — silky, refined, dignified and poised — became known as “the Scurlock look.” It said a lot of things, chief among them that classiness is swell and uplift gets rewarded.

This excerpt from that review really frames how significant and radical these images were:

The Scurlock exhibition highlights more than 100 black-and-white photographs that were taken when the world was very different for people of color. It was a world where reports of lynchings were in the daily newspapers, along with “coon” ads for minstrel shows.

Scurlock’s granddaughter, Jacqueline Scurlock Corbett once said, “We’re just so proud these photos have captured the beauty of black America when black America was on the road to equality”. Word. Here’s hoping the Smithsonian offers another exhibition of them, soon.