About This Project and Blog

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The Project

Between 1897 and 1917, itinerant photographer William Bullard of Worcester, Massachusetts, took over 5000 images of streetscapes, businesses, and local people. These images are preserved as pristine glass negatives by the collection’s owner, Charlton, Mass., resident Frank Morrill. The collection includes over 200 images of people of color, most of whom lived in the vicinity of Bullard’s home on Maple Tree Lane (then Mayfield Street) on the city’s west side. About 75 percent of them can be identified through the photographer’s log book, in which he inscribed the names and addresses of his subjects and occasionally the costs of prints that he sold. Based on our research and discussions with photography experts, we believe that this collection of images of people of color is unique in its scope, in our ability to identify and research individuals and families, and in the specific stories we will be able to tell about them.

In OCTOBER 2017, the Worcester Art Museum will feature approximately 70 of these images in an exhibition, “William Bullard: Reimagining an American Community of Color, 1897-1917.”

Since January 2014, Morrill and Professor Janette Greenwood, a historian at Clark University, have been researching the people in these photographs. Working with censuses and other public records, meeting with community elders, and interviewing descendants of those photographed, they have begun to piece together a powerful story. Many of Bullard’s subjects were Southern migrants, former slaves and the children of slaves, who made their way to Worcester in the years following the Civil War. These photographs reflect their journey from slavery to freedom, their claims to citizenship and respectability and the value they placed on family life and community. Taken at the same time that their Southern kin suffered segregation, loss of the voting rights, and lynching, these photos reveal a powerful sense of hope and progress achieved in the North. The photographs also display community building among people of color in Worcester, of families formed by Southern migrants and local Native Americans. At the same time these photos reflect the shortcomings of Northern life. Most of the people in the photos labored in “negro jobs”—as domestic servants, laundresses, porters, and day laborers, as would their children, lovingly and hopefully portrayed in the photos. Despite economic obstacles, the faces of Bullard’s subjects display dignity and pride, a sense of how far they had traveled.

The goal of this project is to tell the stories of these men and women—and so many others like them—whose stories are seldom told. These photos provide an invaluable way to capture the lives and values of men, women, and children in the first four decades of freedom, people who left few written records behind. Although these photos were taken in Worcester, they address much larger themes in American history: the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society as well as the fundamentally American story of migration and constructing community in new surroundings.

The Blog

The purpose of this blog is three-fold. First, we want to document our journey as we uncover the stories of the men, women, and children in these photographs. We will share both the “highs” and “lows” of historical research–those glorious moments when we make a connection and solve a puzzle, as well as the dead-ends and blind alleys that are an inevitable part of the process . Second, we want to acknowledge and thank family and community members who contribute invaluable information and insights about these photos.  Many people have generously shared so much with us already and we are truly grateful.   Third, we want to get the word out  to family members whose ancestors may be pictured in these photos.  We want to connect with you, to share with you what we have, and to learn more about your family’s history.

37 thoughts on “About This Project and Blog

    • Hello and thanks for your comment. Because we need to control the images–and they are so easy to rip off on the internet, even with heavy watermarking–we are being careful about putting images online. We want to do an exhibit of these images, so we cannot distribute them widely at this point. We have posted a list of the names and addresses (if we have them) of the people whom we have identified. Please see “List of People in the Glass Negatives” in the lefthand column of this blog’s homepage. Please let us know if you think any of your relatives are listed! Thanks again for your interest in this project!

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    • Hi–On the left hand side of our home page you will see a link “List of People in the Glass Negatives.” Click on that link and the list should come up. Let us know if you come across any family members! And thanks for your interest in the project.

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  1. Fascinating! I wrote a book (Before Harlem; U. Penn Press) about the black population of NYC between 1880 and 1915, including the migration of black southerners up North. If I can help in any way, I’d be very happy to do so. I’ll be in Worcester (researching at the American Antiquarian Society) from 10/26-10/29 if you’d be interested in getting together. msacks@albion.edu

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    • Good morning, Valerie. Thank you so much for contacting us. Because we need to control the images–and they are so easy to copy off of the internet, we are being careful about putting images online. We want to do an exhibit of these images, so we cannot distribute them publicly at this point. If you live in the general area, I would be happy to show you the images that we have. And as we are in the midst of researching these photos for the exhibit, I would love to learn of any information that you might have about your grandmother. Please feel free to contact me at jgreenwood@clarku.edu. Would love to meet with you!

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    • Thanks for your comment! The Johnsons and Clarks are very well represented in the photo collection. I recently met with Valerie Hues in North Carolina who provided us with a great deal of information about both families and helped identify Zenobia Clark, her great-grandmother. (The photographer had mislabeled the photo as her sister.)

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  2. Wanda SMITH

    I am a grandchild of Henry Perkins Jr from Camden SC who’s family came from Knights Hill. Looking forward to viewing the photos at Clark University.

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    • Thanks for your message! The research continues and the expected exhibit date is October 2017. We have been meeting with families who are represented in the Bullard collection who have been sharing invaluable information. And it has been an honor to meet them and show them photos of ancestors.

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  3. Benetta Kuffour

    I am a descendant of Bethany Veney. Her dtr was Charlotte who married Aaron Jackson, who then had two children Blanche and Lena, who then had a total of 16 births with eight growing up to be adults. My mother Laura Wilson Pearson (92) and her brother Oliver Wilson (90) are the oldest living descendants of Bethany Veney still living in Worcester. Hopefully, you may have some photos of our family members. I do know that Bethany had purchased 16 plots at Hope Cemetery for herself and family members. I look forward to hearing from you as to when the public exhibition will take place. Thank you for doing this much needed work for the Black community. I see this as an uplifting and esteem building for our entire community. People of color have been here for a very long time. It would mean a lot to me and others for our descendants to be recognized.

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    • Thank you, Benetta, for your message. I think we once met at a teacher’s institute at Old Sturbridge Village. Tt has been such a tremendous honor and pleasure to work on this project, to research these photos, uncover the remarkable stories of those photographed, and to meet family members. We are planning an exhibition of the photos at the Worcester Art Museum in October 2017.
      Frank and I would love to meet with you and any other family members and show you the collection. We do have a photo labeled “Jackson Children,” but have not been able to positively identify who they are. They may be Veney grandchildren. You can contact me directly at jgreenwood@clarku.edu Thanks again!

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  4. Benetta Kuffour

    I forgot to add that my family had owned property on Mayfield Street as well as some other locations in that area. If i can be of any assistance, please let me know. Again, thank you for your resesrch.

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  5. Susan

    Hello Janette,
    My name is Susan Wilson-Pice. My brother Glenn and I met you and Frank a few years back at the Strawberry Moon on the Hassanamesit Reservation. My grandfather James Harold Ward Sr ( Boot)… Hattie, Clarance & Louis Ward my great aunt and uncles. Bud Ward my mothers baby brother, as you do know all of this. Once again I want to thank you for all the long and hard work you have put into this. It’s exciting, fascinating and most important people know who and where they come from, thank you!
    You also mention a Sara(h) Davis my grandmother’s sister father side.
    Thank you,
    SWP

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    • Hello, Susan! Thanks so much for your comment. It has been such a pleasure to meet family members like you who are related to the people in the photos. We would love to know more about Sarah Davis if you have any additional information. According to our records, she married Henry Duffy in 1910 and they later lived on Liberty St and Clayton St. Do you think this is your grandmother and is our information correct?
      Thanks again for your message of encouragement. This project has been so meaningful and so much fun.
      Best,
      Janette

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      • Fran

        Janette, I just came across your site. I met you at the Strawberry Moon a couple of years ago. Susan and I are cousins and Sara Davis is our grandmother’s sister who married Henry Duffy. Sara Davis has grandchildren that live in Boston. James (Duffy) Hill, Hazel Duffy. Also two of Sara’s grandchildren live in Worcester. Henry Duffy and Earleen Duffy. I am sure they can provide you with lots of information on their grandmother and grandfather and the east side. The streets you listed are correct. I remember a picture of Aunt Sara on the porch on Clayton Street. I can’t wait to see the Exhibit at WAM.

        Fran

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  6. Thanks for your quick response. Glad to hear we are on the right track! Please let us know of any other family members who may be interested in seeing the photos. Frank and I would be happy to meet with them.

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  7. Chuck Arning

    This Blog and its ability to bring all these marvelous voices together to tell stories that all too often slip through the cracks is an outstanding achievement. The Bethany Veney Story is really an incredible tale and I have reached out to my NPS Ranger colleagues in the Shenandoah Valley and there are members of the Veney Family still there in the Luray area. It would be great to connect all these branches.

    Liked by 1 person

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