Published: January 22, 2019
DALLAS – Heritage Auctions’ January 15 sale of African American Social History, featuring the John Silverstein Collection, saw art museums and archives, large and small, across the country racing to fill out their holdings with iconic and one-of-a-kind archives and ephemera from the Say It Loud collection. Topping the day was an extensive archive of 112 letters from Union Army Captain Charles A. Hill, relating to his service in the 1st Regiment Infantry, US Colored Troops, which sold at $12,500. With letters from Hill to his wife, Lydia, along with 49 canceled postal covers (nine with stamps removed) relating to his service in the Civil War, Hill comments of his view of the black troops, scenes of camp life, love for his wife and children and war news. Charles A. Hill, a resident of Crete Township, Will County, Illinois, was mustered out a captain in Company C, 1st Regiment Infantry of the United States Colored Troops. One letter even contained fragments of cloth and balls taken from Hill’s wound, and the pieces were included in this historic lot.
Post Civil War segregation laws forced blacks to stay in motels and hotels designated for “coloreds” while traveling. Named after Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), a Booker T. motel sign, metal painted red and white, 24 by 16 inches, Humboldt, Tennessee, no date (circa 1940s-50s), sold at $10,625. The metal motel sign advertises accommodations for African American travelers.
The first time black panther imagery appeared related to voting was a Move On Over… poster used for a voter registration drive in Lowndes County, Alabama, which sold at $7,500. In 1965, approximately 80 percent of the population of Lowndes County was African American, yet no blacks were registered to vote due to outrageous registration requirements. In response, Stokely Carmichael and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) traveled to Lowndes County to organize voter registration in black neighborhoods and in the process, created this poster.
The Silverstein collection was rich in photography from the Nineteenth through the Twentieth centuries. One of many archives offered was one with 38 press photographs of demonstrations in Alabama from 1955-65 – it sold at $5,500. A group of moving and sometimes disturbing photos, the pictures show various instances of demonstrations, peaceful marches, police violence and so on throughout Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery. Within the archive are images of important members of the Civil Rights Movement like Rosa Parks, the Reverend A.D. King’s (Martin Luther’s brother) bombed house, the Birmingham prayer march and others.
From circa April 1863, a horrific carte de visite showing the back of an escaped slave named Gordon realized $5,250. Thought to be photographed near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the 2½-by-4-inch card depicts a shirtless escaped slave who had been bullwhipped by the plantation overseer after an escape attempt. In April of 1863, Gordon escaped to the Union lines near Baton Rouge, and it was during his medical examination that William D. McPherson took the photograph.
A more modern photograph by American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) of the American blues player and social activist Lead Belly realized $5,000. The 8-by-10-inch gelatin silver print is unsigned but is stamped on verso with Abbott’s Commerce Street address. Taken circa 1940s in New York City, Huddie William Ledbetter, aka “Lead Belly,” is shown playing a guitar, although his instrument of choice was the 12-string guitar.
Of particular interest was a group of about 30 movie posters and related advertising ephemera from the pre-World War II era for what were then called “Colored Cast” films that were made for a black audience. Among this group, a one-sheet, linen-backed 28-by-41¾-inch poster for The Bull-Dogger (Norman, 1921), sold at $5,500. Starring black cowboy Bill Pickett, the silent western featured the world champion rodeo stunt man who was cast by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company in two feature films during the early 1920s: this title and The Crimson Skull ($750) the following year. Pickett is acknowledged as the originator of the bulldogging technique, which is wrestling a steer to the ground by grabbing its horns. He was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1972.
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For further information, www.ha.com or 877-437-4824.
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