If you have a few hours to spare, allow me to direct your attention to the Marion Butts Collection on the Dallas Public Library's Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division website. I came across it by accident this morning and have spent the last hour or so browsing through the 1,800 images of Dallas past that were posted a few weeks ago, courtesy a TexTreasures grant from the Texas State Library that allowed the city to hire a part-timer to digitize the collection and a teacher to write up the lesson plans being offered to Dallas Independent School District officials who've yet to take up the offer.
Butts, the managing editor of the Dallas Express from 1954 to '62, spent decades chronicling Dallas, black and white. His work has been studied and revered for years by the likes of Alan Govenor, who stored many of Butts's stills in the Texas African American Photography Archive. (And, for a while, our former lobby and hallway were covered in his photos following a reception held several years prior to his death in 2002.)
But this is the first time, of course, so many of his pictures have been made available for scholarly study and leisurely review.
The library received the collection in 2004 -- a collection that totals 56,000 negatives, says Rachel Howell, assistant manager of the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division. Bits and pieces of it began going online six years ago, but the 1,800 made available only a few weeks ago are "from the series of photos Mr. Butts believed to be his best work, for whatever reason," Howell says. She points out some of her favorites -- all of the Rose Room photos, for instance, and those taken at Fair Park and in front of H.L. Green, where ministers picketed the segregated lunch counters.
"But I haven't seen one of his yet I don't think isn't interesting in some way, shape or form," she says. Like I said, if you have a few hours ...
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