Finding A Lost World

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In 1920, when Richard Samuel Roberts’s name first appeared in the Columbia, South Carolina, city directory—in the “Colored Dept.“—he was listed as a janitor in the post office. He continued in that job, the kind of job a black was expected to have in his strictly segregated city, even after he had established an ambitious photography business in the black community. Self-taught, he learned his craft by studying brochures and catalogs sent by supply houses. The result was an extraordinary array of dignified and beautiful pictures of a little-known society. Now, fifty years after his death, Roberts’s photographs have been rediscovered. The glass negatives, which were stored in the crawl space under the family house, have been retrieved and many of the subjects painstakingly identified. A book of these photographs, A True Likeness: The Black South of Richard Samuel Roberts, 1920-1936 , edited by Thomas L. Johnson and Phillip C. D’fcnn, will be published this fall by Bruccoli Clark/Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

—B.K.