The Picture me as I am exhibition is now on display in-person at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC). The title Picture me as I am is taken from Frederick Douglass’s “Lectures on Photography”. It is curated by Andrea Douglas and Jordy Yager. Galleries are open Tuesday – Friday 1-6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at JSAAHC.
The portraits in this exhibition invite us to see the dignity, resilience, and creativity of the African American community in Central Virginia during the early twentieth century. Community leaders and everyday people sensed that a “new spirit” energized the community locally, as it did across the nation. It was the era of the New Negro.
Paradoxically, it was also the era of Jim Crow segregation. The Black community’s opinions differed on how to “uplift the race.” Some argued that education, enterprise, and etiquette were the keys. Others emphasized protest and political engagement. Most Black people chose strategies that they believed best fit the immediate circumstances that they faced. All agreed that racial unity was essential and that securing the full rights of American citizenship was the goal.
The portraits African Americans commissioned from the Holsinger Studio reflect the spirit of the New Negro era. Many people used the photographs to assert their status as respectable citizens, fully entitled to first-class citizenship. Others emphasized their style and beauty. A few rejected middle-class standards of dress and comportment and embraced new forms of cultural expression—it was, after all, the Jazz Age.