Notes from a Photograph Collection

Although the Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection contains tens of thousands of prints, negatives, and slides, there is also a small amount of papers that consist of handwritten notes, correspondence, and caption guidance forms.  These documents assist with identification, such as the Ku Klux Klan photographs from December 1965 for a Saturday Evening Post story. Many images were not included in the final story, “Portait of a Klansman,” published in the April 9, 1966 issue, including the image below of a Klavern meeting hall in Ayden, North Carolina.

From the caption guidelines: "General view of Klavern hall in Ayden, N.C. At left is open casket; alter is in center where flags and cross is; this is pretty typical of interior of a Klavern hall." (December 1965) Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, C0036, Folder: Ku Klux Klan (1965) Photo © SEPS

I was able to identify the subject and location because of the detailed caption guidance forms that are filed with the photographs. The captions are what Atkins typed up for the editors at the Saturday Evening Post and describe almost every single frame of each negative strip and are very helpful for identification.

SEP Caption Guidance Form (December 1965), Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, C0036, Folder: Ku Klux Klan, 1965

The caption guidelines for this story also noted that one of the three men in this photograph below committed suicide the day after the photograph was made. This was another photograph not included in the Saturday Evening Post story.

From the caption guidelines: "Inside the modest home of Grand Dragon James R. Jones -- this is the living room. Left to right: Grand Dragon James R. Jones; Col. of the Security Guard Grady Mars (he killed himself the next day) and Pete Young of a Raleigh TV station." (December 1965) Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, C0036, Folder title: Ku Klux Klan, 1965 Photo © SEPS

The descriptions are part of what give the Atkins collection a research value that is not readily apparent.  Most researchers request images from the Atkins collection for illustrations rather than use the collection itself as basis of their research.  This additional information retained by Atkins gives these two-dimensional images an unexpected depth that opens up other avenues of research, such as the documentation of right-wing extremism by journalists in the 1960s.

Once the Atkins collection is reprocessed, we hope to revisit the caption guidelines and add some of this description to the online finding aid. Until then, we are going to scan the hard copy finding aid created in the 1980s, which contains information transcribed from those caption guidelines, and link that legacy finding aid to the new version so that researchers can search the photographs at the item-level. Although the arrangement of the collection has changed, many of the folder titles from the old finding aid will be the same in the new one and easy to locate.

This collection is being reprocessed with funds provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.