Photographer Norman Baynard (1908 – 1986) operated a commercial studio in Logan Heights, a neighborhood in South San Diego, where for over 40 years he documented the social, political and religious life of the African American community. From 1939 through 1986, he photographed individual and group portraits, residences, businesses, churches, weddings, baptisms, parties, sports, clubs, political and civic functions, funerals, Masonic/Eastern Star organizations, and Black Muslim groups. As a businessman, it was probably not Mr. Baynard’s intention to create a unique records of African Americans in 20th century San Diego, but this is exactly what he did.
Because Baynard’s work spans so many decades in one tight-knit community, we can see the generational continuity in these proud working and middle-class people. In a larger American context, the collection is of national importance because it documents the westward migration of African Americans for social advancement, to escape institutionalized racism of the South, and to seek a better life. While the work of photographers such as Addison Scurlock, James Van Der Zee, Cornelius Battey, Paul Poole, and P.H. Polk, have received recognition on the East Coast, it is rare to discover such a large and relatively unknown collection of images of an African American community in the West.
Boxer, Muhammad Ali with group, Muhammad’s Mosque No. 8 in San Diego – 1967
Musicians in front of tree – Client: Willie Mitchell – c. 1970
El Morocco Club party – c. 1950
Cataloging the Collection
The History Center sought a grant to evaluate the true size of collection, selection the most representative and interesting images, collect data and stories from the community, create an exhibition, and make the entire collection more widely known and available for research. In mid-2010, the History Center was awarded a grant of $20,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts which got the project started and was soon followed by additional sponsorship from many foundations and businesses including: The James Irvine Foundation, Union Bank, Wells Fargo, Charles and Ruth Billingsley Foundation, and The Heller Foundation.
As a first step, the size of the collection was calculated and determined to be 13,521 photo shoots and 29,217 negatives of various sizes from medium format to 5 x 7 inch negatives. A selection of 500 of the most aesthetic and culturally significance images from each subject area was chosen, scanned and cataloged. Because there was only limited information about the images recorded on index cards by the photographer himself, collecting more information from the community was critical.
A power point presentation was created of the records and images, as well as printed binders, which were taken out to different community venues over a period of several months. Project consultant Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson connected the History Center to key people and organizations where the information gathering meetings were held including: Bethel A.M.E, Bethel Baptist Church, New Creation Church, Malcom X Library, George L. Stevens Senior Center, Rotary Club of Southeastern San Diego, the Catfish Club, and the Kuumba Fest. At every event the public had the opportunity to review and reminisce about the people, the time and the places captured in these images. A mini-travelling exhibition with a selection of 50 images was brought to the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation where it was on display for a month. The public was also invited into the Research Archives to review images from the entire collection and search for pictures of family, friends, and themselves.
An exhibition entitled Portrait of a Proud Community: Normal Baynard’s Logan Heights, 1939-1985 opened at the History Center on June 2, 2011 and ran through early 2012. As viewers recognized people and places in the images and shared their memories, this information was added to the database. The entire project was covered extensively by Channel 4 San Diego, with host Diana Guevara, who went on to produce a 30 minute segment about the project.
Collection Assessment by African American Photography Experts
In conjunction with the project three leading experts in African American studies and photography reviewed the collection. Dr. Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, was joined by Dr. Camara Holloway, Assistant Professor of late 19th & early 20th century American Art at University of Delaware, and Dr. Cristin McVey, Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego. Dr. Willis presented an illustrated talk entitled Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, during which she discuss specific images from the Baynard Collection. Holloway and McVey were on hand to discuss, respectively, their expertise in promoting the study of race and ethnicity through art, and the development of early black settlements in San Diego using portrait photography and family snapshots to tell the story.
Other programming included a panel discussion entitled The African American Community, Then and Now; a performance by the Black Storytellers of San Diego; a Kwanzaa Drumming and Musical Performance; as well as a hair and fashion show.
Crowd in front of Orpheum Theatre – 5th and B Streets – c. 1957
Clients having their hair cut at Fay’s Barber Shop located at 2816 Imperial Avenue, San Diego, c. 1955
Sylura Barron and others under tent celebrating – Client S. Barron – c. 1940
The following organizations supported this project
The James Irvine Foundation
Wells Fargo Bank
National Endowment for the Arts
Charles & Ruth Billingsley Foundation
The Heller Foundation
Channel 4 SD
Balboa Park Online Collaborative