The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library will host an exhibit of photographic prints from the collection of Levi J. Rowan, former president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) from Jan. 30-Feb. 24.
Part of the Margaret Walker Center's permanent collection at Jackson State University, 10 black-and-white framed photographs, depicting individuals, families, groups, office scenes and special programs and events comprise the exhibit. Dating to the 1890s, they detail the stories of middle- and upper-class African Americans in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Levi J. Rowan was an 1893 Alcorn graduate and native of Rodney, Mississippi, and the first alumnus to serve as president of his alma mater in 1905. He went on to serve until 1911, but was then re-elected president in 1914, serving until his death in 1934.
Due to the systematic disfranchisement and establishment of segregation in the region during this period, the black elite comprised a small part of the population, making these pictures a rare find. Still, they indicate the persistence of African Americans despite the ravages of Jim Crow society in the South and show the long history of the black middle class in America, which did not simply appear out of thin air in the 1960s.
Instead, these individuals provided a power base that was essential to the success of the modern civil rights movement and to growing access for African Americans to the ranks of the middle class. The collection also tells the story of early professional photography — one of the few career paths that was open, even if on a limited basis, to blacks in the South at the turn of the 20th century.