If it were not for the quick thinking of a professor at San Francisco State University, thousands of photographs documenting 40 years of African American history in the Bay Area would have been lost forever.
But instead, the 10,000 historical pictures taken by local photographer Emmanuel F. Joseph will be archived at San Francisco State University this year, donated by Careth Reid, who saved the collection.
“The Smithsonian Institute wanted the collection, but it would have been too far away for local people to see,” said Reid, who is retired from S.F. State.
Joseph, a native of St. Lucia, chronicled important events in local history from 1930 – 1970. He captured the wartime bustle of Richmond shipyards, African-American Rosie the Riveters and photographed actress Lena Horne launching the USS George Washington Carver Liberty ship in 1943.
He event captured some of the historic events held during founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.
If it weren’t for Reid, all the photographs would have been destroyed in 1979.
Shortly after Joseph’s death, his wife Daisy decided to return home to New York, putting the photographs up for sale. A buyer, interested in recycling the silver in the negatives, offered her $2,000.
Daisy informed Reid that she would sell the collection to the one who came up with the $2,000 first.
Reid felt it would be a tragedy to lose such an important record of Bay Area history. So, she bought the photographs.
“This is one of the most valuable photographic recordings of African-American culture in California,” she said.
“E.F. Joseph photographed common people as well as the famous. He was there for birthdays, weddings, celebrations and historic moments,” she said.
Now in the process of trying to place names, times and occasions, Reid is busy going through the pictures.
“I’ve only begun, there are so many boxes that I haven’t opened yet. God slowed me down so I could do this work,” she said.