Envisioning Black Memphis at Midcentury
By the mid-1930s, Lonzie Odie (L. O.) Taylor was one of Memphis’s leading Baptist ministers. But his influence extended beyond the pulpits of the churches he pastored from the 1930s through the 1960s. A self-trained photographer and videographer, Taylor produced thousands of black-and-white photographs, 30,000 feet of color and black-and-white film, and 100 home-cut 78 rpm discs. While his sermons, essays, and poems served as commentaries on and guides for the internal spiritual lives of his congregants, Taylor’s photographs, films, and audio recordings chronicled the external lives and activities of his neighbors, his congregations, and his community. His explorations of African American life and culture are not reports on the brutality of oppression; instead, they are studies in the vitality of community life and personal identity in the segregated urban South. This essay investigates L. O. Taylor as both a product and a chronicler of his times. It examines his personal life, community activities, and creative works as frameworks for “envisioning” segregated Memphis from the 1920s through the 1950s.
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