Addison Scurlock photographed Black and White notables in D.C.
Addison Scurlock was born on this date in 1883. He was an African American photographer.
Born in Fayetteville, N.C., he graduated from high school there, and in 1900, moved with his family to Washington, D.C. His father, George Clay Scurlock, had run unsuccessfully for the North Carolina Senate. He also worked as a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department, while studying law and he later opened a law office on the 1100 block of U Street.
Young Scurlock began his career as a photographer as an apprentice to Moses P. Rice, who had studios on Pennsylvania Avenue. By 1904, he learned the basics of photographic portraiture and the entire range of laboratory work. That same year, he started his own business at his parents’ home on Florida Avenue.
He photographed students at Howard University, M Street, Armstrong high schools, Black universities, and high schools throughout the South. In 1907, he won a gold medal for photography at the Jamestown Exposition. He opened the Scurlock Studio in the African-American community’s theater district in 1911, and concentrated on portraiture and general photography. His clients included brides, successful people, politicians and presidents, convention guests, and socialites. A 1976 Washington Post article by Jacqueline Trescott read, "For years one of the marks of arriving socially in black Washington was to have your portrait hanging in Scurlock’s window."
In addition to studio portraits, he mastered the use of the panoramic camera and shot conventions, banquets, and graduations. By the 1920s, he had earned a national reputation. He was the official photographer of Howard University until his death in 1964, and he recorded all aspects of university life.
Scurlock also produced a series of portraits of African-American leaders that historian Carter G. Woodson distributed to African-American schools nationwide. One of his most significant photographs was that of Marion Anderson singing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.
A famous story told about him is that while shooting President Coolidge with the Dunbar Cadet Corp on the White House Lawn, he walked up to the president and moved him to another position for the sake of a better picture, much to the dismay of the Secret Service.
Scurlock and his wife, Mamie Estelle, lived just a few blocks from the studio with their four sons — Addison, Robert, George, and Walter. Mamie served as the studio’s business manager.
From 1948 until 1952, Robert and George managed the Capital School of Photography. Among their students were future Washington Post photographers and a young Jacqueline Bouvier who became the wife of John Kennedy.
As founder of the Scurlock Photographic Studio, he took portraits of such notables as educators Booker T. Washington and Mary McLeod Bethune, composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, engineer Archie Alexander, political leader W.E.B. DuBois, former first lady Mamie Eisenhower, singer Billy Eckstine, physician Charles R. Drew, opera singer Madame Lillian Evanti, and poet Sterling Brown while documenting key moments in Washington, D.C. history. In 1964, Robert bought the Scurlock studio from his father and purchased a studio on Connecticut Avenue.
The Connecticut Avenue studio closed in the early 1970s and the 9th Street studio was demolished in 1983 for the Metro system. Addison Scurlock died on December 16, 1964 at the age of 81.
The African American Atlas
Black History & Culture an Illustrated Reference
by Molefi K. Asanta and Mark T. Mattson
Macmillam USA, Simon & Schuster, New York
Today in American History