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Douglas Keister's collection of Glass Negative photographs on the world stage

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Dignity in the face of oppression: Incredible pictures capture the everyday life of African Americans in Jim Crow-era Nebraska

From 1910-1925 amateur photographer John Johnson (right) took hundreds of photographs of the African American and immigrant communities in Lincoln, Nebraska. Johnson married Odessa Price (left) on August 20, 1918. She was 27 and he was 39. This is believed to be their wedding portrait and someone would have helped Johnson trigger his camera's shutter. John went to Lincoln High School and was a member of the track team. He graduated in 1899 and briefly attended the University of Nebraska where he played football. He worked as a janitor at the post office and courthouse in Lincoln, but also did work as a laborer and drayman (someone who delivers beer for a brewery). Johnson and his wife died within months of each other in 1953 

By Ann Schmidt For
Published: 10:48 EST, 20 February 2017 | Updated: 14:40 EST, 20 February 2017

• Amateur photographer John Johnson took hundreds of pictures of the African American and immigrant communities in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the early 1900s

• The pictures were taken during the New Negro Movement, which preceded the Harlem Renaissance, as a way to give a voice to African Americans in a time of segregation and oppression

• During that time, African Americans were often photographed in big cities, but Johnson documented the lives of people in the rural Midwest

•Historians know Johnson took at least 500 photographs, though not all the subjects have been identified

• A set of 280 of Johnson's negatives were discovered by budding photographer Doug Keister who is trying to identify the remaining people in the pictures

Johnson is known to have taken at least 500 photographs. Among those portraits, Johnson captured images of his friends and family, including his mother, Margaret Johnson, pictured. Margaret was born in Mississippi in 1854, probably in slavery, and died in Lincoln in 1926. She is pictured in front of Johnson's house.This incredible set of antique glass negatives gives a rare glimpse into the everyday life of early 20th century African Americans and immigrants in the Midwest. 

The photographic negatives are part of a wider collection of 280 photographs that capture the dignity of Lincoln, Nebraska’s minority communities from 1910-1925, with wedding and family photos, individual portraits and pictures of pets.

During that time, the New Negro Movement was moving across the country, giving African Americans a voice and an opportunity to speak for themselves in an otherwise stifled and segregated time in American history. Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from using the same facilities or having the same opportunities that other Americans had, like jobs and housing.

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