Uncovering photographs that tell stories is rarely straightforward.
This is one of my favorite images I found during a research trip to the Library of Congress in 2015. The picture, taken in San Francisco in 1955, captures a long line of well-dressed civil rights activists near a taxi stand.
Plate_07 COX STUDIO, SAN FRANCISCO, CA, 1955. Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records. San Francisco NAACP members during a “Don’t Ride” campaign urging riders to boycott Yellow Cab and help stop hiring discrimination. Plate_03
My initial encounter with the image was quick. I gave it a cursory glance with badly-strained eyes while spinning through roll after roll of microfilm. The NAACP Collections at the Library of Congress were scanned to ease access but the size and resolution of the photographs can be poor. I scanned the microfilm view and the verso and moved on.
While going through the massive cache of images I located during the trip, the Yellow Cab pickets photograph jumped out as one of the strongest, yet I had no way of knowing how clear it was. As I researched the photograph studio online and then the NAACP boycott against hiring discrimination at the cab company, I found additional details and pictures of the boycott in Jet magazine.
Finally, when I received the high-resolution image from the Library of Congress, the photograph was crystal clear, well-framed, and captured the dignity of the local activists and earnestness of their demonstration. I could not have been more pleased with the final result.