Perhaps we should ask ourselves to consider what’s left off the front page just as much as what’s on it

Last night, New York Times contributors Darcy Eveleigh and Rachel L. Swarns visited Barnard to discuss their recent book about what was left unseen and undiscovered of black history until the two decided to search through the NYT archives. Bwogger Miyoki Walker was there to catch the whole thing.

Surprisingly enough, space, the deep sea, and the New York Times’ archives have a lot in common: much remains unexplored and many are afraid to explore it. This is where Darcy Eveleigh and Rachel Swarns come in.

After discovering portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King just before he was attacked in Harlem in 1958, Eveleigh, a photo editor, decided to delve deep into the Times’ archives to see what else she could find. Later joining forces with journalist Rachel L. Swarns, Dana Canedy and Damien Cave (both of whom did not attend the event), she and her colleagues aimed to tell stories that the newspaper had not yet reported.

These photos spawned a larger project, starting as an online series about famous black artists (like Dizzy Gillespie and Lena Horne), and later developing into a full-fledged book about the untouched photos and stories of black history that the authors found buried in the “organized mess” of the archives.


The majority of the event consisted of Eveleigh and Swarns going through a slideshow of photos from their book while detailing the stories behind them, the process of finding them, and why they were never published. The presentation included photos of Moneta Sleet Jr., Lena Horne, a little black girl raising her hand in a newly integrated school, East Harlem, and more.

One photo of particular note depicted Grady O’Cummings III, a black man, constantly labeled as “the next MLK,” who ran for president in 1964. O’Cummings successfully faked his own death and fled to Canada in 1969 due to fear of the rising Black Panther Party, until correcting his own death records years later with several publications. Due to a general distrust of O’Cummings among some NYT staff, his premature obituary was corrected 40 years after the fact. This story garnered thundering laughs and applause from the audience.

A large part of the event was spent trying to reason through the fact that the NYT failed to release these photos publicly; ultimately, Eveleigh and Swarns still couldn’t arrive at a clear conclusion. Some photos might’ve been left out due to a lack of space on each page, racism, bad photo-editing, or all of the above. The fact is, we may never know why they were left out. The point of the book, as suggested by the two contributors, was not to find a conclusion but to hold the NYT accountable as an institution and to ask the question: “how are we trained to see black images?” The answer to that question holds the key, if not to why these pictures were left to gather dust in the archives, then to how we can adjust our gaze so that we conceive of them as worth displaying in the future.

Photos from this collection will be on display in the Altschul Tunnel Exhibit from November 26 – December 31.

an old-timey paper via Wikimedia Commons