For years, the bags of photographic negatives lay forgotten on the floor of a south Minneapolis garage.
Dust, leaves and grit found their way inside the bags, but by some stroke of fortune no one tossed the old photos in the trash.
Now, rescued by the photographer’s family members and painstakingly restored and digitized by Hennepin County Library staff, those 850 images are a time capsule of the Twin Cities black community of the late 1940s.
The photographer, John Glanton, shot weddings, receptions, parades, baptisms, funerals, political demonstrations, football games. People dancing, embracing, drinking and smoking, relaxing in living rooms, playing with children, marching on parade, bowling, golfing. Grinning babies propped up on couches, young couples staring into each other’s eyes, men in wide-brimmed hats and double-breasted jackets sharing beers, a woman lying in a coffin.
There’s something missing, though. Glanton died at age 80 in 2004, and he didn’t leave behind any photo captions.
So on Tuesday, the Hosmer Library at 347 E. 36th St. is inviting the public to visit between 10 a.m. and noon to view the pictures and help identify who’s in them. The hosts are Anthony Scott, Glanton’s nephew and the one who shared the collection with the library; his sister, Dr. Chaunda Scott; and Ted Hathaway, special collections manager for the Hennepin County Library.
(You can also view and tag the mystery photos by going to tinyurl.com/zpj8ghc on the web.)
Hathaway said it’s the first time the library has mobilized the community to identify a photo collection. A number of the photos show infants and toddlers who would be about 70 years old now.
“I’m hoping some of these babies are still alive and say, ‘Hey, that’s me,’ ” Hathaway said.
Anthony Scott, 65, of Minneapolis, knew his wife’s uncle as an engineer, who took pictures at family events. He didn’t know about Glanton’s early career as a commercial photographer until a few years ago, when Glanton’s children were cleaning out his garage and discovered the negatives.
They gave them to Scott, who in turn mentioned the photos to Hathaway during a visit to the library. Hathaway offered to clean up the negatives and see what was on them. Some were ruined by the passage of time. Others are spotted and stained.
What emerged was a family album of mid-20th century striving and optimism, as blacks in the Twin Cities bought homes, opened businesses, joined clubs, bowling leagues, fraternal organizations. The Glanton collection is a “fascinating window into this world,” Hathaway said.
Postwar Minneapolis had a progressive mayor, Hubert Humphrey, who in 1948 emerged into national politics with a stirring speech about civil rights. Humphrey appears in several of the Glanton photos, among other notables, including John Nelson, the father of Prince; golf promoter Jimmy Slemmons; and civil rights leader and business owner A.B. Cassius. Other photos give clues: One parade car has a placard declaring the Grand Exalted Ruler J. Finley Wilson.
Yet most of the images focus on regular people dressed to the nines to celebrate life’s milestones.
“You see all these people who just seem so resilient,” Scott said. “They’re all very well dressed, they’re all together. They just seem happy.”
Contact James Eli Shiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-673-4116.