Of his own volition, photographer, filmmaker, and oral historian Rev. L.O. Taylor (1899 - 1977) single-handedly documented the African American community in Memphis, Tennessee from the 1920s through the 1960s. Capturing what is rarely seen in public documents from those decades, Rev. Taylor's work shows African American life in the South immediately preceding the struggle for Civil Rights.
Rev. L. O. Taylor
Images and sounds, ranging from individual faces and voices to street scenes, church and secular life, social functions, and emerging businesses are the singular threads woven together to create Rev. Taylor's complex tapestry. Like a southern James Van Der Zee, Rev. Taylor documented a changing era, dominated by the rise of the National Baptist Convention and the birth of gospel music, as well as newfound African American enterprises, emerging neighborhoods and the work of such religious leaders as Mrs. Lucie Eddie Campbell (Williams) and Rev. William Herbert Brewster.
With films depicting baptisms, parades, business openings, church services and still photographs documenting community activities and home life, Rev. Taylor summarized the fabric of daily life in his time. His lacquer disc recordings give voice to all those photographs, encapsulating the sounds of worship with sermons and songs, community meetings and events of daily life in the community.
The Rev. L. O. Taylor Collection is enormous in volume and content. It consists of 30,000 feet (15 hours) of color and black-and-white film, 7,000 nitrate and safety negatives, 500 prints, 100 78 rpm lacquer discs, and Rev. Taylor's own Bits of Logic, a self-published collection of sermons and writings, plus many handbills, postcards, letters and church bulletins.
The Center for Southern Folklore learned about the work of Rev. Taylor from a friend, Ms. Lula Adams. Ms. Adams lived in North Memphis on Hunter Avenue down the street from the Reverend and Mrs. Taylor. Mrs. Blanche Taylor, Rev. Taylor's widow, was looking for a caring home for this priceless collection. In 1978 the Center became that home and the Taylor Collection is now the centerpiece of the Center for Southern Folklore's Multimedia Archives.
Mrs. Taylor lived to see the Center organize parts of The Taylor Collection and begin to provide information about his work. She beamed with pride when we showcased selections of Rev.Taylor's photographs at the North Memphis branch of the Memphis Public Library only blocks away from their home.
Blanche Taylor 1978
This project is ongoing and we hope you will explore this exhibit and provide information that will help us learn more about the legacy of Rev. L. O. Taylor.
TAYLOR EXHIBIT INTRODUCTION
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In 1977 when the Center acquired the Rev. L. O. Taylor Collection
there were many people who assisted in the herculean task to organize,
identify, publicize and preserve the collection. Center staff,
volunteers, interns all pitched in to insure the organization of the
collection began. The Center received support from numerous
organizations, agencies, and foundations during the early phases of
this project including The American Film Institute, Shelby County Board of Commissioners, Southern Media Program, and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Lynne Sachs and Carol Stern, high school students at Memphis Central High School across from the Center, worked with staff members Robert T. Jones, Kini Kedigh, Danny Wildman, Sharon Hesse and directors Bill Ferris and Judy Peiser, among others, as we began to organize hundreds of boxes of negatives, albums of recordings, and 100 foot rolls of 16 mm film.
Folklorist Deborah Bowman interviewed Mrs. Taylor, Lula Adams, Mrs. William Fields, Bishop L. Johnson and Rev. James Netters. Volunteers led by Mildred Colburn and Barbara Williams
worked with community members to begin to identify the people and
places in the films and photographs. Bowman later wrote the first
brochure about the collection. Portions of the brochure are included
in the narratives about Rev. Taylor and the Taylor Collection.
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Gatherings at the Center for Southern Folklore at 1216 Peabody and in other locations in Memphis provided opportunities for members of the community to see photographs and film footage.
In 1980 the Center produced a small exhibit showcasing Rev.Taylor's photographs. Hundreds of people attended the premiere of the exhibit at the North Memphis Branch of the Memphis Public Library. In the years that followed, this exhibit was used throughout Memphis and shipped to numerous locations across the United States.
Thanks go to the following people who assisted the Center during this early phase of the project: Randy Robertson, Frank Fourmy, Deck Reeks, Pete Ceren, John Stevenson III, Pam Cohen, Deborah Holmes, Ellen Slack, Ruth Amy as well as those already mentioned earlier and those that may have been inadvertently omitted.
French Filmmaker Bella Besson included film footage by Rev. Taylor in Du Cote de Memphis, a film about the Center she produced for Pathe Cinema. And later, former intern turned award winning filmmaker Lynne Sachs made a film about Rev.Taylor called Sermons and Sacred Pictures. Segments of the Taylor footage were used in the Center's film, All Day & All Night: Memories from Beale Street Musicians. With the help of Joe Lauro at Historic Films, segments of the film footage have been made available in numerous films about American music and culture.
Ellen Fleurov, President and Founder of Crossroads Traveling Exhibitions, included photographs by Rev. Taylor in the High Museum of Art's exhibit Picturing the South and Macon, Georgia's Tubman African American Museum's exhibit African American Studio Photographers in the South. This exhibit was also shown at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
In 2005 the Center launched a major initiative to preserve, digitize, and organize our Multimedia Archives. At the urging of two of our consultants, Michael Taft, Head, Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center and Joe Lauro, President, Historic Films we embarked on the task to preserve and identify the Taylor Collection. While other materials in the Archives continue to be digitized, the thrust has been to complete the Taylor Project; to provide information about the collection through virtual exhibits on the Center's web site; and eventually to produce travelling exhibits, books and media materials. The launch of the Center's web site in August 2008 provided the framework for the Center to produce virtual exhibits like Taylor Made.
There have been many people who have made this story of Rev. L. O. Taylor come to life. They digitized and preserved the original materials in The Taylor Collection, asked the questions, listened to the narratives, looked into the photographs, selected the artifacts and provided the historical and cultural framework to help us begin to document and celebrate the life and work of this amazing man.
Judy Peiser directed the research, digitization and organization of the collection and exhibit. Filmmaker and media producer Elisa Blatteis shaped the exhibit -- arranging, editing and selecting the many components that make this exhibit easy to understand and navigate. Greg Lane and Wayne Hastings of Graphics and Motion helped turn our exhibit ideas into on line realities.
Our hardworking archives staff have made invaluable contributions. Changzhi Yu tirelessly preserved each negative. Lauren Hesse, Tim Curry, and Brigitte Billeaudeaux organized our data bases so that the information we receive about Rev. Taylor and the many people, traditions, events and businesses is carefully recorded. Charlie Churchman, President of Churchman TV, used 21st Century technology to preserve and digitize 20th Century film documents. Joe Lauro, President of Historic Films, insured the digital documents are stored and made available for ongoing film and media production. Jim O'Donnell set up our media transfer systems and together with Lauren McConnaughhay produced the media documents in the exhibit. Martin Fisher turned 70-year-old lacquer disc recordings into state of the art digital recordings for this exhibit and archival resources. In doing so, Fisher has taught us about the technology Rev. Taylor used to make the recordings of religious and secular music and narratives. Amy Beth Dudley assisted in the organization and preservation of artifacts in the Taylor Collection. Ace intern Kyla Gibney made the tedious job of numbering thousands of negatives look easy and fun.
Two University of Memphis scholars helped us understand the history, music, and traditions that shaped Rev. Taylor: author and associate history professor Beverly G. Bond, Ph.D., directs African and African American Studies, and ethnomusicologist, performer, and author David Evans, Ph.D., directs the Program in Regional Music at the Rudi Scheidt School of Music. Rev.Taylor's granddaughter Alice Taylor Henderson has provided invaluable information and support. Andria Lisle assisted in early research and Jane Rodack helped in final editing of the exhibit.
Thanks also to members of the Center's staff who assisted throughout the project: Brian Paris, Paul Levine, Frank Lilly, Mary Maduku, Tommy Foster, Tameka Walker and Paige Scheinberg.