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“New Negro” Pop-Up Portrait Exhibition Explores Hidden History

Charlottesville, VA: The Holsinger Portrait Project, a partnership between the University of Virginia and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, will present a pop-up exhibition, The New Negro in Charlottesville and Albemarle: Portraits from a Century Ago, at the Northside Library branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library throughout the month of March. The exhibition is free and can be seen during the library’s regular opening hours.

This pop-up show is a preview of much larger exhibitions that will be open at the University of Virginia, in September 2022, and at the Jefferson School, in early 2023. Each of the exhibitions feature rarely seen portraits that local African Americans commissioned from R.W. Holsinger’s photo studio during the first decades of the twentieth century. This was the era of the “New Negro,” a national movement. As the influential African American philosopher Alaine Locke said, in 1925, a “new spirit is awake in the masses.”

Yet the New Negro movement in Charlottesville and Albemarle has received little attention. George W. Buckner, a civil rights activist and businessman who was born and raised in Charlottesville, captured this spirit better than most when he wrote that “the pussy-footing, ‘Me-too-boss’ and hat in hand Negro is gone!” and listed a series of demands that included the desegregation of street cars, the creation of a high school for Black students, and representation for Black people on city council and the school board.

The Holsinger Studio’s portraits demonstrate that the spirit of the New Negro was alive and well in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. They show members of African American community as they wished to be seen — as people of dignity, beauty, respectability, and strength. The portraits are silent assertions of equality and demands for the rights of citizenship. They challenge the crude racial stereotypes that were so common in American culture at the time.

A selection of the portraits is available to media outlets upon request.

The Holsinger Portrait Project is supported by grants from the Jefferson Trust and the 3 Cavaliers Grant Program.

The Northside Library is located at 705 West Rio Road and is open Monday through Thursday from 10am to 9pm and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm.

 For more information about the pop-up exhibition, contact Professor John Edwin Mason.




John Edwin Mason

Co-Director, Holsinger Portrait Project

Associate Professor

University of Virginia

Department of History

(434) 422-0004

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