Since I finished the October front page story and short video for the Chicago Tribune about King Daniel Ganaway, the story of the nearly-forgotten Chicago photographer has been read and watched again and again.
Ganaway, a brilliant photographer who worked at the black Chicago Bee newspaper and free-lanced for a variety of mainstream publications during the 1920s and 1930s, was also part of an interracial marriage in an era when society frowned on mixed liaisons.
Within the past few years, the white descendants of neglected African-American photographer King Daniel Ganaway have slowly but surely come to terms with their family’s complex racial history. But now, the family is occupied with reclaiming their heritage -- and working overtime to bring Ganaway’s name back to the public.
That element played out in the story -- but also in the response since it was published.
Seeing a story or video find an audience is always rewarding, but it's also been fascinating to get letters from former neighbors of the Ganaways who always wondered at the couples secrets.
The Ganaways' family story, first told in the Chicago Tribune last October, is a touching one. (Here’s how the Tribune story came about.)
When Ganaway and his Swedish wife Pauline Barrew divorced in the 1920s, she moved to the western suburbs with their bi-racial child, Lucille. The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Ganaway’s offspring were never told about their illustrious black ancestor. Only recently, with the advent of online research tools like ancestry.com, were Ganaway’s descendants able to discover the real truth about their background.
Their efforts to understand and celebrate the photographer are beginning to gain traction.
Tim Fredericks, a great-grandson of Ganaway, is working with his African-American wife, Brenda, to create a historical marker for Ganaway in the town where he was born, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
In February, the couple is also presenting the First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, where Ganaway worshipped, with a plaque featuring photographer’s image and accomplishments. That plaque will be located somewhere on church grounds.
Also in February, the Fredericks will establish a $500 scholarship in Ganaway’s name to Howard High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., a school that the photographer attended in the late 19th-century.
“It’s a primarily African-American school, just as it was when King went there,” said Brenda Fredericks, who along with Tim is funding the scholarship. “A lot of the students come from poor families, so we think this is something King would have done.”
The couple is also preparing an exhibit of Ganaway’s photos, which will is slated for display for three months at the Bessie Smith Museum in Chattanooga sometime in 2013.
One problem they are encountering: there just aren’t a lot of Ganaway’s original prints or negatives available for display. In fact, only three original prints or negatives of Ganaway’s work are know to be available, including his masterpiece, “The Spirit of Transportation”, taken at LaSalle Street Station in 1918.
So the Fredericks have been doing their best amateur photoshop work to clean up second-hand images of Ganaway’s that were found online in archived periodicals like Fort Dearborn Magazine. “We’re hoping to display at least 10 photos in the exhibit,” Brenda Fredericks said. “Just having him in an exhibit is important.”
Family members have been speaking more openly about their story.
A public account ...
In November, the Fredericks, along with Carol Santos, a great-granddaughter of Ganaway, told their story in a presentation for the Bronzeville Historical Society, which took place at the Chicago Bee Building on the South Side.
“It was an emotional thing for my husband and Carol to do discuss the dysfunctional life they had as a result of their mother’s refusal to accept their past,” Brenda Fredericks said. “I was so proud of them, they were so brave.”
The family also found time to visit Zion, Ill., where Ganaway lived before moving to Chicago. In Zion, they were able to view the photographer’s baptismal record.
... and a painful split
While many family members had another reunion during the Thanksgiving holiday at the house of Bill Brody, Ganaway’s grandson, there are still family members not willing to accept Ganaway as a member of the family.
One granddaughter who lives in the area, for instance, flatly refused to read the Tribune story about the photographer, telling her daughter: “Get that story about that nigger away from me,” Brenda Fredericks recounted.
But despite the resistance, Ganaway’s influence is becoming even stronger to younger members of the family.
Journey full circle
Kristin Schlottman, Ganaway’s’ great-great-granddaughter, rediscovered her passion for photography after learning about her black ancestor, and recently won a photo contest at the College of DuPage.
Ironically, her winning photos were taken during a recent trip to Costa Rica. In order to hide Ganaway’s race from his descendants, some family members lied and said Ganaway came from that Central American country.
Meanwhile, Tim and Brenda Fredericks and Carol Santos continue to do research on Ganaway, with the hope of finding more information about him and his work.
“It’s been a really long journey, but we feel so passionate about him,” Santos said.
-- John Owens
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