Durham News

Revealing ‘Portraits’ at the History Hub

Hugh Mangum

A very personal look at the early-20th-century American South will be on display at the Museum of Durham History’s new exhibition “Hugh Mangum on Main Street: Portraits from the Early 20th Century.”

Opening this week at the Durham History Hub, the exhibition features photographer Mangum’s largely unknown portraits of Southern society after Reconstruction.

Mangum was born in Durham in 1877 and began establishing studios and working as an itinerant photographer in the early 1890s. During his career, Mangum attracted and cultivated a clientele that drew heavily from both black and white communities, a rarity for his time.

“Although the late-19th-century American South in which he worked was marked by disenfranchisement, segregation and inequality – between black and white, men and women, rich and poor – Mangum portrayed all of his sitters with candor, humor, and spirit. Each client appears as valuable as the next, no story less significant,” said curator Sarah Stacke. “His portraits reveal personalities as immediate as if the photos were taken yesterday.”

Stacke, a photographer with Durham roots and now based in Brooklyn, and Margaret Sartor, who teaches at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, are working together on a book about Mangum’s life and work. Mangum’s images are preserved in Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

“Mangum’s work helps connect the dots from the past to the present,” said Katie Spencer, the museum’s executive director. “We see in his work that traits like creativity and inclusivity are not only present in the Durham we know today, they have a long history here.”

Having already received some national attention from the New York Times in 2013, Mangum and the exhibition are now going to be highlighted on CBS News. In late July, CBS will tape a segment on Mangum’s role in the community as well as interview Stacke at the History Hub and visit Mangum’s granddaughter in Cary.

A launch party for “Hugh Mangum on Main Street: Portraits from the Early 20th Century” will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. tonight, July 23, at the History Hub, 500 W. Main St., and runs through August. The exhibition will be in the Our Bull City area, which is curated by community members. Anyone interested in creating an exhibit should email mailto:info@modh.org with the subject line Our Bull City.

The public is also invited to a program on Mangum and his work at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10.There is no charge for the exhibit, program or party. The Hub is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.