1930–1950, double exposure photograph of an American Negro League Baseball player throwing a baseball - COPYRIGHT MORGAN and MARVIN SMITH

This year’s Photoville outdoor banner exhibition—hosted at St. Nicholas Park and Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem—takes a look at the photography of Morgan and Marvin Smith.

Identical twin brothers, Morgan and Marvin Smith actively documented Harlem during the mid-20th century. Born on February 16, 1910 in Nicholasville, KY, they moved to New York City to pursue careers in photography and attended artist development classes taught by renowned sculptor, Augusta Savage. They went on to own a landmark photography studio next to the Apollo Theater on 125th Street.

Of the thousands of photographs and prints by the Smith brothers in the Schomburg Center’s collections, this exhibition highlights a brief survey of sports snapshots from the 1930s–1950s. From American Negro League baseball team players sliding into home plate to collegiate star-athlete footballers dodging tackles across the field, these photographs document a pivotal era in American sports history.

1930s - 1950s Photographs of Players in Action

1940, American Negro League Baseball team, NY Cubans player sliding into a base, during a game against the Newark Eagles - COPYRIGHT MORGAN and MARVIN SMITH

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1940, American Negro League Baseball team, NY Cubans player sliding into a base, during a game against the Newark Eagles © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1939, American Negro League Baseball team, NY Black Yankees, team portrait in front of crowded stands - COPYRIGHT MORGAN and MARVIN SMITH

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1939, American Negro League Baseball team, NY Black Yankees, team portrait in front of crowded stands © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
Sunday, May 16, 1937, American Negro League Baseball team Philadelphia Stars player, Jud Wilson makes first score during game against Black Yankees at the Dyckman Oval (once located at 204th Street and Nagle Avenue) - COPYRIGHT MORGAN and MARVIN SMITH

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Sunday, May 16, 1937, American Negro League Baseball team Philadelphia Stars player, Jud Wilson makes first score during game against Black Yankees at the Dyckman Oval (once located at 204th Street and Nagle Avenue) © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1940, Satchel Paige throwing a ball as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, American Negro League Baseball Team - COPYRIGHT MORGAN and MARVIN SMITH

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1940, Satchel Paige throwing a ball as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, American Negro League Baseball Team © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1930–1940, team photo of the ‘Harlem Rens’ Renaissance basketball team

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1930–1940, team photo of the ‘Harlem Rens’ Renaissance basketball team © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1930–1940, portrait of Willie Smith, center for the Harlem ‘Rens’ Renaissance basketball team

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1930–1940, Portrait of Willie Smith, center for the Harlem ‘Rens’ Renaissance basketball team © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1937, Joe Lillard (center) eludes tackle while playing for the Brown Bombers football team

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1937, Joe Lillard (center) eludes tackle while playing for the Brown Bombers football team © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1930–1940, Photograph of famed college football player, Edward Williams, playing for NYU, class of 1940

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1930–1940, Famed college football player, Edward Williams, playing for NYU, class of 1940 © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1938, Champion tennis player jumping over the net on a court, Harlem

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1938, Champion tennis player jumping over the net on a court, Harlem © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
June 6, 1938, Radcliffe Mason (left) shaking hands with fellow tennis player at the “Brooklyn Net Club”

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

June 6, 1938, Radcliffe Mason (left) shaking hands with fellow tennis player at the “Brooklyn Net Club” © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1930–1940, NY Tennis Association, New York State Champion swinging at a ball

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1930–1940, NY Tennis Association, New York State Champion swinging at a ball © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1938, mixed doubles tennis players on the court during the NY State Open Championships, New York Tennis Association

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1938, Mixed doubles tennis players on the court during the NY State Open Championships, New York Tennis Association, Miss Catherine Jones of Boston (left), W. E. “Babe” Jones of Baltimore (right) © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1938, Radcliffe Mason playing tennis, Harlem

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1938, Radcliffe Mason playing tennis, Harlem © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1939, American Negro League Baseball team, Pittsburgh Crawford player, Johnny Taylor throwing a ball

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1939, American Negro League Baseball team, Pittsburgh Crawford player, Johnny Taylor throwing a ball © Morgan and Marvin Smith.
1930–1950, double exposure photograph of an American Negro League Baseball player throwing a baseball

By Morgan and Marvin Smith, Morgan and Marvin Smith Collection, Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

1930–1950, double exposure photograph of an American Negro League Baseball player throwing a baseball © Morgan and Marvin Smith.

Installation view of St. Nicholas Park Photoville 2024
Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park at 134th St, Harlem, New York, NY

Photo Credit: Kimberly Henderson

This exhibition was curated by the Schomburg Center’s Digital Curator, Kimberly Annece Henderson, and features writer and cultural critic Bradford William Davis, who shares his site-specific response to this year’s selection of sports action snapshots: 

You wouldn’t be here unless you were ready to ball. But before you walked through these familiar chain links, something about the photos to your left and right caught your eye. We think we know why. 

Each picture you pass on your way to the courts and fields—carefully chosen and curated by Kimberly Henderson, Digital Curator at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture—isn’t just a snapshot in stunning black and white. 

It’s a story. And you get to author the next page.

We invite you to build upon this brilliant past and usher in a bold new future with your own game. Your diving stops, bat cracks, high cheese, dishes, swishes, spins, spirals, serves, volleys, and voracious leaps at the warning track stretch beyond today’s boxscore or bragging rights.

Smile nice and wide because one day, somebody will be combing through your candids and action poses, admiring the style, hustle, and finesse worthy of the yard. 

So, this time before you ball, savor it. As you dig in your kicks and crease your cleats, let your steps be a reminder of those who came before. 

Welcome and play ball.

Installation Views at St. Nicholas Park and Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem

Installation view of St. Nicholas Park Photoville 2024

Photo Credit: Kimberly Henderson

Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park at 134th St, Harlem, New York, NY
Photoville 2024 Installation view of Jackie Robinson Park at 145th St, Harlem, New York, NY

Photo Credit: Kiahra Read

Photoville 2024 Installation view of Jackie Robinson Park at 145th St, Harlem, New York, NY
Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, New York, NY

Photo Credit: Kiahra Read

Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, New York, NY
Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, New York, NY

Photo Credit: Kiahra Read

Photoville 2024 Installation view of St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, New York, NY

In Recent News:

Portrait of Willie Mays
Cropped portrait of Willie Mays

"Willie Mays, Modest Champion" by Gene Shoor, The Black Experience in Children's Books: Selections from Augusta Baker's Bibliographies, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

Rest in peace to the legendary center fielder, Willie Mays, who died on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The record-breaking Alabama native quickly became an all-star after his 1948 introduction into the American Negro Leagues, just before joining Major League Baseball in 1951. 

The Schomburg Center has a digitized copy of a 1960 publication entitled, "Willie Mays, Modest Champion," held in The Black Experience in Children's Books: Selections from Augusta Baker's Bibliographies Collection.

This news comes just a few weeks after American Negro League player stats were officially incorporated into the overall historical record for Major League Baseball

Acknowledgements

This exhibition was curated by Kimberly Annece Henderson, Digital Curator, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, with a written response by cultural critic and writer, Bradford William Davis

Special thanks to the following project contributors: 

Kiahra Read, Research Assistant, Digital Curation

Emily Hoffman, Lead photographer, Digital Imaging Services 

The entire staff of the Photographs & Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 

The estate of Morgan & Marvin Smith

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