Three African American Photographers in Augusta

This month I’d like to tell you about three photographers working in Augusta just before, during, and after World War I — Oliver M. Blount (1893-1940), Robert Lee Ellis (1884-1934), and Jackson W. Whitmore (1890 – sometime after 1946). I know something about each of these men, and have not seen any of their photographs. I would certainly like to know more about them, so if any readers can add to my knowledge, please do!

Augusta Chronicle “Notes Among the Colored People” August 27, 1916, p.10, col. 2

Starting in alphahbetical order, Oliver Mizbah Blount was born in Gough, in Burke County, Georgia, on September 2, 1893. His family was still living in Burke County when he was seventeen in 1910, but they were in Augusta by 1915, when O. M. Blount opened his photograph gallery.

When he registered for the draft in June 1917, he listed himself as a photographer, and the 1917 Augusta city directory listed Blount as a photographer in both the individual and classified sections, along with the final listing in the classifieds of the son, Robert E (not B) Williams (1858 – 1937; photographer to about 1919), of the earliest African American photographer in Augusta, Robert Williams (1832 – 1917; retired 1908). This is the only time in his Augusta city directory listings that Blount was not noted as “colored.”

Polk’s Augusta city directory, 1917, page 827

However, on August 12, 1917 (p8, col. 3), in the Augusta Chronicle “Notes ….,” was stated that O. M. Blount had gone into real estate with an office “on Ninth Street, near the Lenox Theatre,” and he was noted again in 1918 (Feb. 10, p. 8, col.3) as working in real estate under the name of O.M. Blount & Co.

Although he was working in real estate, Blount was apparently still involved in photography. He was cited in the 1919 city directory as a photographer at 1015 Ninth St., as was his brother Ira (1900 – 1946), and Blount’s on Ninth St. was mentioned as one of the “two or three photograph galleries” in the article “Colored People of Augusta Making Grand Progress in Various Lines of Endeavor” in the September 13, 1919 (p8, col. 7) Augusta Chronicle.

Ira, seven years younger than Oliver, was never listed anywhere again as a photographer, but he did later work with his brother Oliver in another business pursuit. Before that, Ira had a number of occupations, and after his brother Oliver’s death, Ira was in Chicago when he registered for the draft, worked for a motor sales company, and lived there with another brother. He eventually returned to Augusta.

According to the Augusta Chronicle of May 2, 1920 (p. 7, col. 2) O.M. Blount gained a certificate of graduation from the Bogg’s Academy in Burke County, which he had attended before the school conferred degrees. Boggs Academy was a Presbyterian school founded in 1906 in Burke County by the Board of Missions for Freedmen, Presbyterian Church.  

After working in real estate over ten years, Oliver M. Blount established Blount’s Funeral Home, also on Ninth St., and became its president. He was a member of the National Negro Trade Association, and became a director in Augusta’s only Black-owned Bank.

Ira had became an assistant manager of the funeral home, and he may have worked at the funeral home when he returned from Chicago, prior to his 1946 death. Mrs. Oliver M. Blount, Juanita Mack Blount (m. 1921; d. Dec. 1973), was the owner and operator of Blount’s Funeral Home from shortly before her husband’s death on August 19, 1940, until her retirement in 1969. The home continued under the Blount name, until a name change around 1980 to Blounts and Reid. Both Oliver M. Blount and Juanita M. Blount are buried in Augusta’s South View Cemetery.

Robert Lee Ellis, slightly older than Blount, was born in Georgia, possibly in Augusta, on March 10, 1884. Although cited as repairing organs and pianos in the 1910 census, the 1915 and 1917 city directories noted him as a Hauler.

On his 1918 draft registration he stated he worked for himself as a traveling photographer in the Augusta area. In the 1919 city directory he is noted as one of two “colored” photographers, along with O.M. Blount. In the 1920 census, taken in January, R. L. Ellis is listed as a photographer at 1322 Jones Street, also his home. In February 1921, his $25 business license was made out to photographers Ellis, R. L. & Bro., at 905 Telfair St. This is the only indication of Robert Ellis’s brother, and I have not found that name anywhere else. R. L. Ellis is listed in the 1921 city directory alone, at 905 1/2 Telfair St.

Robert L. Ellis continued to be listed as a photographer through 1925, at various locations, and it may be the same Robert L. Ellis who is listed in the 1927 Augusta city directory as a jeweler at 529 9th Street. He died November 19, 1934, and is buried in Augusta at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Dr. Henry R. Butler, Sr. in his Knights of Pythias uniform, retouched photo by William L Brockman, 1912; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth; read more about this photo and this African American photographer here and here

In 1923, Ellis worked as a photographer at 1108 Gwinnett, which had recently been occupied by photographer Jackson W [William] Whitmore from 1919 to 1922, as his Gwinnett Street Art Studio. Whitmore is an interesting, but illusive person.

According to his Draft Registration card of June 1917, Whitmore was born in Columbia County, Georgia, not far from Augusta but he did not know his date of birth. He stated his birth date on a later document as March 28, 1890. His occupation on the 1917 document was as “Chauffeur and picture-maker,” and he supported his wife and mother. He is first listed in the 1919 Augusta city directory (along with Blount and Ellis, although this one time Whitmore is not noted as “colored”), and the 1920 census lists him as having his own photograph gallery, and owning his own home.

The individual and business listing of the 1921 Augusta city directory shows him as a photographer working at the studio on Gwinnett Street. He was working there when in April 1922, a “burglar, who — took a fancy to one of the photographs [in the window]” entered, and stole that item, but nothing else (Augusta Chronicle April 4, 1922 pg. 8). Although not listed in the city directory in 1923, by 1924, according to an item in the “Lost and Found” column in the October 23, 1924, Augusta Chronicle (pg. 8, col. 1), Whitmore was located at 1261 Ninth Street, when a “suitcase containing Camera and Films” was lost in the city, and he offered a reward for their return. This is the final indication I have of his working as an Augusta photographer.

In 1922, J. W. Whitmore and Annie Lee Whitmore were granted a divorce. Years before that, in 1913 (Augusta Chronicle, July 31, pg. 4), a man noted as Jackson Whitmore, “her former husband” (no longer living together but likely still married) was arrested for choking an “Addie Whitmore” (possibly Annie). The same year (Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 23, 1913, pg. 13, col. 2), a Jackson Whitmore was charged with carrying a gun without a license, and pointing it at a person. If this was Jackson W. Whitmore, he certainly turned his life around!

By 1930, according to the census, J. W. Whitmore was living in Waynesboro, in Burke County, Georgia, with a much younger wife, a year-old son, and had a shoe repair shop. In 1940, he was still in Waynesboro with his shop, and his two sons, noted as married, but she is not listed. And he was in Waynesboro where he registered in 1942 for the draft for those born from April 29, 1877 to Feb. 14, 1897. Thus far, I have no idea when or where Jackson W. Whitmore died, but it was sometime after 1946, when the son who was named after him (who did go into the army), registered for the draft.

You can read my previous posts on Georgia’s African American photographers here, here. and here. If you would like to know more about other businessmen like these, see “Exploring Black-Owned Businesses from the Turn of the 20th Century” in the Library of Congress’s Picture This blog. I hope some of information was interesting to you. The picture widens each day with new stories on Georgia photographers to be told, so stay tuned!

2 comments

  1. Katrina Berube · · Reply

    As usual – an exhaustive and impressive amount of research showing such interesting lives.
    Thank you!

    1. Than you for reading!

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