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  • Writer's pictureMarybeth Gasman

Picturing Historically Black Colleges And Universities

By Marybeth Gasman

As a historian and scholar who conducts research related to Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), I was excited to learn about Getty Images new Photo Archive Grants for HBCUs. Getty Images, which is known for capturing the world in photos, created the archive in 2021 to honor the legacy and history of HBCUs and their contributions to U.S. history. In partnership with the Getty Family and Stand Together, a philanthropic community, Getty Images is granting $500,000 towards the digitization of HBCU photographic archives. The inaugural grant recipients are Claflin University, Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University, and Prairie View A&M University. Over 100,000 rarely seen photos depicting historical events, African American culture, and educational achievements at HBCUs will be available for licensing in the HBCU Collection, providing a new revenue stream for each HBCU. Even more important, 100 percent of the revenue generated from this program is invested in supporting current and future HBCU grant recipients, as well as stipends and scholarships for students.

According to Cassandra Illidge, Vice President of Global Partnerships and Executive Director of the HBCU Grants Program at Getty Images, “If there is a lack of representation in photography and images, then we are not really doing justice to our footprint in the industry.” She added, “There’s so much history sitting on the HBCU campuses but it’s not accessible due to resources.” The main concerns for HBCUs are the lack of resources and the lack of equipment needed to restore photos.”

Getty Images does not traditionally go into institutions and digitize archives; they have their own archive in London. To accomplish the work for the HBCU photo archive, the company had to find funding for this project. As Illidge explained, “There have been fires, schools have closed, there has been water damage. Boxes of these amazing artifacts are gone. And that’s why this work is so important.”

The Getty Images team works to understand the library at each HBCU, spends time speaking with the archivist to ask what they want to show to the world from their collection. According to Illidge, the Getty Images team works to highlight HBCU special collections, including the many African American photographers that have contributed to these collections but are rarely credited.

One of the aspects of the digitizing project that is particularly unique and important is the engagement of students in the process. Illidge hopes that the students’ involvement will result in interest in a new career path. As she stated, “We’ve had students who love photography, who want to be public historians. They help with digitizing. They use the scanners, they color correct and we teach them about meta data. They are learning how to do research around the photos to identify people in the photos to populate the meta data. They are learning a lot about their history.”

The collection includes photos related to the Orangeburg Massacre in which three Claflin University were killed by police on February 8, 1968, and the shooting of Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green by police at Jackson State State University on May 15, 1970. As Illidge shared, “These schools are historic landmarks and the history that we need to know is still there.”

Getty Images also has a new Black History and Culture Collection, which, through an application process, is available to teachers at the K-12 and college level, as well as those at museums. The HBCU project is part of this larger initiative, and Getty Images efforts to bring attention to African American history more generally.

Note: This essay was originally published on

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