In 1934, the year Calvin Littlejohn came to Fort Worth, the city was a sleepy little burg. This was the Jim Crow era, when mainstream newspapers wouldn’t publish pictures of black citizens and white photographers wouldn’t take pictures in black schools.
In Fort Worth, Littlejohn began what would become a lifelong career of serving the black community. And there would be nothing remotely related to the white culture’s depictions of Amos ‘n’ Andy or black kids grinning over a slice of watermelon in Littlejohn’s portrayal of his adopted home and the people he came to appreciate and love. Littlejohn’s natural aptitude for drawing had been honed by correspondence courses in graphic design and a stint in a photo shop where he learned about the camera, lighting, and the use of shadows.
When Littlejohn was assigned to be the official photographer at I. M. Terrell—the city’s only black high school at the time—his professional career was launched.
Unlike many segregated cities, where blacks lived only in one section, blacks in Cowtown lived in every quadrant of the city. There was a thriving black downtown business district, with hotels, restaurants, a movie theater, a bank, and a major hospital, pharmacy and nursing school. And of course, there were the schools and churches. All would eventually be seen through Littlejohn’s lens.
Calvin Littlejohn was everywhere—he had to be. In addition to all of his school, community, business, and church photography, when anyone famous, black or white, came to town, Littlejohn photographed them. Although he never set out to be the documentarian of Fort Worth’s black community, he did what he set out to do: to capture the best of a community, focusing on its good times.
The book features more than 150 shots Littlejohn captured over the course of his career. The images are from the Calvin Littlejohn Photographic Archive at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The Littlejohn collection includes approximately 70,000 film negatives and 55,000 prints.
Dr. Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, wrote the foreword for the book, in which he praises Littlejohn’s photographs as “visual social history that brings these people and the world they lived in out of the shadows of past and memory.”
The book’s introduction by Bob Ray Sanders sets Littlejohn’s photography in its social, political, and cultural context. Sanders’s thorough research into identifying unnamed people in Littlejohn’s photographs adds much to the history of the black community in Fort Worth.
Sanders’s journalism career has spanned more than three decades and three media: newspaper, television and radio. He currently is vice president and associate editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He worked many years at the Dallas/Fort Worth PBS affiliate, where he served as reporter, producer, station manager and vice president.