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I took the photo in the summer of 1992. It appeared in Deb Willis's book The Family of Black America, published in 1996.
The caption read: The haircut. My father had a radio and television business that he ran out of a small red building in our front yard in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, after working his regular job in an auto repair shop. Our family lovingly called it "The Shop." He spent nearly every waking moment in the shop that stood under a large maple shade tree. In the fall, a large wind blew the tree down, crashing into the shop and destroying his business. While his days of television repair had long been over, the tree crashed into more than just a building; it crashed into my father's soul. Six months later he took ill and died.

I usually don't think of places that inspire my work but rather the people in those places. If I had to pinpoint a specific place, it would be under the shade tree that stood in front of my father's "shop" in the yard of our home in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. My family called it the shop because that is where he repaired televisions and radio as his side hustle and where his darkroom was. I remember hot hazy evenings sitting under that tree with my mother, Roberta, and occasionally my father, Richard, eating cold watermelon and musing about whatever came to mind.

My father started a photography business during the 1940s, years before I was born, that lasted a decade or so, but, in that time, he photographed the Black side of town. He was not a famous photographer. His work was not known outside of Fort Gibson, but his photographs did mean something to the people who lived there. The pictures my father made are not just pictures. They are documents, forged in tiny specks of metallic silver, that protect the legacy of this Black community and the people who made it. They speak to the larger history of Blacks in the region who were enticed to Oklahoma Territory by the offer of free land to non-Indians. By the late 1880s, Blacks had established more than fifty all-Black communities. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, it inherited these communities, making it the state with the most all-Black towns.

I was introduced to photography in that darkroom at the invitation of my father to watch the water (developer) and you'll see a ghost appear. When I saw that image develop, I was hooked. Photography became my lifelong passion.

The images of people in this book are born from the passion and dedication my father instilled in his photographs. I hope they serve as lasting documents for those of African descent who celebrate their proud Western heritage.


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