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50 Years/50 Collections: Arnold de Mille: Photojournalist of African American Life

Arnold de Mille in military uniform, undated.

Photo journalist Arnold de Mille (1908-1996) captured the African American experience for the better part of the 20th century, as well as recorded the African experience during a time of volatility and upheaval. His personal papers span this storied career with the majority of these materials covering the Civil Rights Movement, the United Nations, and beauty culture. Magazines and news periodicals such as Negro World (1927-1932), Newspic (1940-1942), the Chicago Defender, the New York Age Defender (1950-1955), and Dawn Magazine (1970s) featured his works. Of note is his coverage on the ascent of a rising star, Helena (Lena) Horne, for the short-lived Newspic. His papers are comprised of photographs and slides of writers and musicians including Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington; politicians such as Ruth Williams, Adam Clayton Powell, and Nelson Mandela; and athletes such as Althea Gibson and Jackie Robinson.

Early in his career, de Mille served under the Federal Writers Project from (1937-1939). He later rose to the position of Press Relations Director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund where he served under Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Highlights from this time include color snapshots of the 1963 March on Washington, reports on race relations with a focus on social justice, and NAACP reports and press releases during the 1940s and the 1950s.

Langston Hughes and Willy Bryant. Photo by de Mille.

As a United Nations news photographer (1948-1961) and correspondent (1978-1987), de Mille traveled the world to interview leaders and to document their countries, their victories, and their struggles. He explored the African continent covering leaders such as Nigerian politician Adedeji Adebayo and the founder of Godianism, spiritual teacher Ahanyi Kalu Onu Kama Onyioha. Other highlights from the series include correspondence, transcripts of interviews, pamphlets protesting apartheid in Transkei (now South Africa), and promotional literature from host countries. Of note are the images that capture Nelson Mandela's first visit to the United States three months after his release from prison, which involved his speech to the United Nations, a concert given in his honor at Yankee Stadium, and a parade through the streets of New York City.

While he worked in public service, de Mille also entered the field of beauty culture as a lecturer of cosmetology education, a public relations consultant, and a photographer for Milady Publishing Company. Nicholas F. Cimaglia established Milady in 1927 and the company published hair care and beauty culture manuals for both instructors and students. He worked in a variety of positions during his forty-eight-year career with Milady (1944-1992).

The finding aid for the Arnold de Mille papers can be found here.

Disclaimer: Images from the Arnold de Millie papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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