Photographing Freetowns | Newberry

Photographing Freetowns

African American Kentucky through the Lens of Helen Balfour Morrison, 1935-1946
Friday, January 20, 2017Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hermon Dunlap Smith Gallery

Open to the Public

Chicago-area photographer Helen Balfour Morrison is largely unknown today, but she created an impressive body of photographs documenting African American life in Depression-era Kentucky. Beginning in 1935, Morrison traveled to the Inner Bluegrass region near Lexington, Kentucky, where she photographed the residents of two small African American communities, Zion Hill and Sugar Hill.

Her images reveal the dignity, independence, and strength of the close-knit descendants of the freedmen who settled these Kentucky hamlets in the decades following the Civil War. Morrison’s photographs chart the daily lives of these individuals, picturing their work, domestic rituals, and social life. The photographs preserve this proud legacy for future generations and invite further investigation and understanding of the experiences of African Americans in these communities and others during the first half of the twentieth century.

The exhibition will feature nearly 80 of Morrison’s original prints, together with contextual materials from the Newberry’s collections. Also on view will be Morrison’s original home movie of her 1935 trip, plus a slideshow of all of her almost 500 Kentucky images.

View the digital collection of Morrison’s Kentucky photographs, and explore related materials in the Newberry collection.

Free Curator-Led Tours

  • Saturday, January 21, 1:15 pm
  • Thursday, February 23, 5:30 pm
  • Thursday, March 30, 5:30 pm

Meet in the lobby five minutes before the tour time; no registration required.

Photographing Freetowns is sponsored by the Morrison-Shearer Foundation, Joan and Robert Feitler, and the Rosaline G. Cohn Endowment for Exhibitions.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.

Cost and Registration Information 

Free to visit. The Exhibition Galleries are open 8:15 am to 7:30 pm Tuesdays through Thursdays and 8:15 am to 5 pm Mondays, Friday, and Saturdays; closed Sundays.