Friday, October 9, 2015

Discovered in the Archives... from the Calvert Brothers Studio

Some days as a historian and archivist are good days...and some days are not so great. I recently had one of those really great days.

TSLA has a collection of approximately 10,000 glass plate negatives (more than 3,000 of which have been scanned) from one of Nashville's prominent photography studios, the Calvert Brothers Studio. The collection is in the midst of being processed and I have been compiling an inventory of the negatives in order to help organize the collection. On a recent morning, I came across a striking image of an African-American man while working on the inventory and I wanted to find out more about him.

Glass plate negative of Calvert negative # 19385, Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection

I began with the only concrete information I had: the negative number etched by the studio into the emulsion of the negative. This negative had the number 19385. TSLA has one of the studio's daybooks (its listing of negative numbers arranged alphabetically by the last name of the person making the appointment). Our staff and volunteers have been creating a database of the entries in the daybooks.

Negative # 19385 scratched into the emulsion of the negative by the studio, Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection

Searching the database for negative 19385, I found the corresponding entry with the name "B. C. Franklin" from 1901. The historical note in the database entry noted that Buck C. Franklin was enrolled at Roger Williams University (a historically black college in Nashville). Knowing that the name in the daybook is the name of the person who scheduled the appointment and not necessarily the person in the photograph, I decided to see what I could find about Buck C. Franklin on the Internet.

Buck C. Franklin, Nashville, Tennessee, 1901, Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection

Page from the studio's daybook with the entry for B. C. Franklin highlighted ("col" is short for "colored" and "cab" is the abbreviation for cabinet card, in other words, the specific type of print that was ordered), Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection

I discovered that Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960) went on to become a lawyer after graduating from Roger Williams University. He moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, just prior to the Tulsa race riot of 1921 and his law office was destroyed in the riot. He then represented African-American residents in lawsuits seeking compensation for the destruction of their businesses and property in the riot. I also came across this photograph [] of him taken just after the riot, which is pretty convincing evidence that the man in the negative is indeed Buck C. Franklin.

Franklin was also the father of renowned historian John Hope Franklin [], who received his bachelor's degree from Fisk University in Nashville.

Then, a further search in the Calvert daybook turned up more entries for Buck Franklin. The entry for negative number 12481, taken in 1899, was under the name "B. Franklin." Comparing that image to this image on the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian website [], it is clear that the two photographs are of the same person. Coincidentally, a year and a half ago I had selected the 1899 image of Buck Franklin to use on the introduction panel of TSLA's exhibit about Tennessee's 19th Century African-American legislators (although the image did not make it onto the final version of the panel).

Buck C. Franklin, Nashville, Tennessee, 1899, Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negatives Collection

A third entry (negative number 50906) is under the name "Buck Franklin." However, I have not been able to determine if this negative is a photograph of the same Buck Franklin. The negative, if it still exists, is in the as-yet-uninventoried portion of the collection, and trying to find it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And there are a couple of points that cast doubt on the possibility of that negative being of the same Buck Franklin. First, the photograph was taken in 1890, when Buck was just 11 years old. Since the names in the daybook are the names of the individuals who made the appointments, it seems highly improbable that an 11-year-old made an appointment to get his picture taken. Second, while he was named after his grandfather, he noted in his autobiography that his grandfather died before he was born, so the entry cannot be from his grandfather.

But the story of Buck Franklin is not the only one awaiting discovery among the negatives in the Calvert Brothers Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection. For example, according to the daybook, there are supposed to be a couple of negatives of John Hope. He was a classics professor at Roger Williams University, later president of Morehouse College, active in the NAACP, and the namesake of John Hope Franklin. And the hunt continues...

Will M. Thomas, Archivist for TSLA's Archival Technical Services, contributed this first-person account of his research for the TSLA Blog. Will's past processing projects include the Puryear Family Photograph Albums, James Earl Ray Inmate Records, and Colonel Harry E. Dudley Papers. Will is also a staff photographer for the State Library and Archives Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee digitization project.

Will would also like to acknowledge Kathy Lauder, retired archivist and volunteer for the Tennessee State Library and Archives, for her work on entering the Calvert daybook into the database. Kathy's work proved instrumental in helping Will discover the Buck Franklin photo. 

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State


  1. Fine detective work on a great image!

  2. In cooperation with the City Commission, the Exchange prepared new building codes for the original Greenwood that would make rebuilding prohibitively expensive for the original owners. The land could then be redeveloped as a commercial and industrial district - no longer residential. The plan was never implemented because the Oklahoma Supreme Court overruled the proposed ordinances as unconstitutional. B. C. Franklin, the lead attorney of the black community who challenged the ordinance, was the father of John Hope Franklin, who became a notable historian.[32]

  3. This is very interesting! Will the completed collection be available digitally? I would love to see if I could find any ancestors among the pictures.

    1. Thanks for your question, Samantha. Work has already started to scan the images and place them on our Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA), with the goal of having the entire collection online by Spring 2016. Look for an update on our blog and the TeVA website in the coming months. Meanwhile, you can visit the Tennessee Virtual Archive at the following link for more digital images from our collection:

  4. Note that B.C. Franklin did not "move" to Oklahoma, he actually "returned" to Oklahoma where he was born an raised.

    His grandparents were slaves of prominent Choctaw Indians. Buck Colbert's father was Andrew, and Andrew's father was Dave Franklin who was a slave of David Burney. Buck Colbert's grandmother was a slave of Choctaw Chief Peter Pitchlynn. Their family history can be found on Choctaw Freedman Card #41, from National Archives publication: M1186. The info is also online on, and also on Ancestry.