‘Chick History’ documents African American women’s Tennessee political history

Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, left, takes notes and listens while Hattie Yarbrough, right, talks about her aunt, Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret. Mrs. Yarbrough was among participants who brought in family photographs and letters to the November 2017 Chick History Digitization Event at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Among the material she brought in was a studio portrait of her aunt taken by James P. Newton, the first black professional photographer in Memphis whose work is extremely rare. Image courtesy of Chick History.

A team of scholars and archivists are inviting Middle Tennesseans to scan and digitize family photographs, letters, and memorabilia related to African American women’s political history prior to 1930 during a three-day event on May 18-20 at the Nashville Public Library’s Main Branch.

The May digitization event is the first opportunity for Middle Tennessee residents to participate in Protecting the Legacy, a statewide project organized by the nonprofit Chick History in partnership with Humanities Tennessee to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification.

The first digitization event, held at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, in November 2017, yielded a new archive of dozens of items, including interviews with several African American women in their mid-90s. Among the rare and important findings is a studio portrait taken by pioneering photographer James P. Newton, the first professional Black photographer in Memphis who operated a studio on Beale Street.

Studio Portrait of Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret taken by James P. Newton around 1900 in Memphis Tennessee. Newtown was the first professional black photographer in Memphis. Jarret was a teacher born near Saulsbury, Tennessee who left a legacy to her family of the importance of education, civic engagement, and the contributions of African Americans to history. Jarret is among the first generation of African American women voters in Tennessee. Image courtesy of Chick History.

“We are excited about the discovery of this studio portrait by James P. Newton, whose work is extremely rare in local archives,” said Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, professor at the University of Memphis and the Humanities Scholar for Protecting the Legacy. “A historical find like this highlights the vital role women play as everyday archivists of their family and community history.”

Dr. Jenkins was the first to identify the photograph as a rare example of Newtown’s early work. The photograph, taken around 1900, is a studio portrait of Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret, a teacher born near Saulsbury, Tennessee. Her portrait was part of broader issues around race and representation at the turn of the century. Newton was central to visually documenting the achievements of Black Americans like Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret and transforming the visual representation of African Americans as they strived for full citizenship and political enfranchisement.

Annie Sybil Thomas Jarret was among the first generation of African American woman voters in Tennessee.

“The Newton photograph is just one of the histories we hope to discover and preserve with this project,” said Rebecca Price, Chick History’s president/CEO. “The existence of the photograph in a family collection serves as a poignant reminder that our personal family histories are inevitably part of something bigger and worthy of preservation. It also demonstrates the urgent need to capture these local histories before they are lost.”

Protecting the Legacy is the second phase of ‘March to the 19th’, a five-year project organized by the Nashville-based women’shistory nonprofit, Chick History, in partnership with Humanities Tennessee. March to the 19th is a multi-stage initiative dedicated to commemorating the upcoming centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 2020.

Protecting the Legacy in Middle Tennessee is generously funded by a grant by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee made possible through funds from the Ida F. Cooney Fund for the Arts and the Marguerite Miller Trost Memorial Fund for the Advancement of the Teaching of American History.

Interested participants can visit the official website at www.protectchickhistory.org to learn more, or contact Rebecca Price at 615-913-2513 or email info@chickhistory.com. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Founded in 2015, Chick History is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding history one story at a time by focusing on women’s history, educational programming, and community outreach. Chick History is committed to preserving and interpreting all women’s histories and experiences through its unique programs and community-driven projects.

For more information, visit the website www.chickhistory.org.