Guide to the Griffith J. Davis photographs and films, 1947-1991 and undated
Photojournalist, diplomat, and film maker from Atlanta, Georgia. Collection dates from 1949-1991 and comprises films, photographs, nitrate negatives, contact prints and related materials assembled by African American photojournalist Griff Davis, relating to Davis's trips to Liberia; prominent African American writers, poets, or artists such as Langston Hughes, Hale Woodruff, and Charles Alston; and the Palmer Memorial Institute, a private junior and senior high school for African Americans in Sedalia, N.C. The audiovisual components include home movies and nine color and black-and-white 16mm films dating from the fifties, taken in Liberia by Davis during part of William V.S. Tubman's presidency. Films depict a wide range of subjects, including the country's people, industry, leaders, and rural life. Other Griff Davis images in the collection are found in an album entitled "Progress in Liberia, November 1949 - February 1950," containing twenty large black-and-white gelatin silver prints with typed captions; the album was assembled to promote a partnership between the government of Liberia and Liberia Mining Company. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
- Collection Number
- Griffith J. Davis photographs and films
- 1947-1991 and undated
- Davis, Griffith J.
- 6 Linear Feet, 476 items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Films collection dates from 1949-1991 and comprises films, photographs, nitrate negatives, contact prints, and related materials relating to Davis's trips to Liberia; prominent African American writers, poets, or artists such as Langston Hughes, Hale Woodruff, and Charles Alston; and the Palmer Memorial Institute, a private junior and senior high school for African Americans in Sedalia, N.C.
Photographic materials include two sheets of photographic contact prints taken by Davis when he visited Methodist missionaries Mr. and Mrs. George Way Harley in Ganta, Liberia. Subjects include African masks and the Ganta Mission. A letter written by Davis describes his visit with the Harleys. Other Griff Davis images in the collection are found in an album entitled "Progress in Liberia, November 1949 - February 1950," containing a map of Liberia and twenty large black-and-white gelatin silver prints with typed captions. Subjects feature Liberian landscapes, construction projects, bridges, railroads, and port scenes, with some images featuring native Liberian workers. The album was assembled to promote the partnership with the Liberian government and the Liberia Mining Company; in the first image, President Tubman is signing a contract with mining officials. There are also nitrate negatives in the collection that are closed to public use.
The audiovisual components include seven color and black-and-white films across ten reels, taken in Liberia by Davis in the 1950s during William V.S. Tubman's presidency. Davis was asked by Tubman to take films of Liberia in 1952. In 1956 and 1957 he made films while stationed in Liberia with the United States technical assistance mission and the Liberian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Films depict a wide range of subjects, activities and events, including the country's people, industry, leaders, and rural life. Titles include Pepper Bird Land (1952), Liberia 1956 Presidential Inauguration of William V. S. Tubman & William R. Tolbert, President and the Press Exhibit (1956), Gold Coast Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah Visits Liberia (1953), Progress Through Cooperation (1957), home movie Coketails for Dorothy, Monrovia Children's Birthday Party (1956), and Night Village Dancing in Liberia (1956).
Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open to research use.
Original audiovisual materials are closed to use; viewing copies are available. Nitrate negatives can only be consulted with permission of the Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Films, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
This material has been given basic processing and includes both the original collection and an addition from 2003. Materials have been reboxed but may not have not been described or arranged beyond their original condition.
[Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Viewing copies are available. Nitrate negatives can only be consulted with permission of the Curator of Documentary Arts.]
Original 16mm prints in the Griffith Davis collection are closed to use, and have not been digitized. To request access to the electronic user copy made from the VHS tapes, select "Electronic Record" for that title.
Griffith Davis was born on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia April 18, 1923. He was introduced to photography during high school. After serving in WWII, Davis returned to Atlanta where his photojournalism career flourished as he worked while at Morehouse College for the Atlanta Daily World, Time, and Ebony, who authorized him to do a photojournalism spread on his sister's high school, the Palmer Memorial Institute, a private boarding school in North Carolina. Davis' journalistic career introduced him to many political and cultural players of the time, including Langston Hughes, who was one of his earliest mentors. Davis received his M.A. in journalism from Columbia in 1949, the only black student in the program. As a journalist for the Black Star photo agency, New York Times, Ebony, and many other publications, Davis traveled in the United States, Africa, and Europe during the forties and fifties. In 1952 the Republic of Liberia sponsored Davis' one-man show "Liberia, 1952," at the American Museum of Natural History, and the years that followed he produced three documentary films including one narrated by the then unknown actor Sidney Poitier. In 1952 he also joined the Foreign Service, spending most of his time advancing Truman's Point 4 program for foreign aid (later USAID), chiefly in Liberia. He also served in Tunisia and Nigeria, and retired in 1985. In 1993, Morehouse College awarded Davis the Bennie Trailblazer Award, named for his former mentor and president of Morehouse, Benjamin Mays, for personal and professional achievements.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Alston, Charles Henry, 1907-1977
- Archive of Documentary Arts (Duke University)
- Davis, Griffith J.
- Ganta United Methodist Mission
- Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967
- Harley, George W. (George Way), 1894-1966
- Liberia Mining Company
- Palmer Memorial Institute (Sedalia, N.C.)
- Tubman, William V. S., 1895-1971
- Woodruff, Hale, 1900-1980
- African American poets
- African American diplomats
- African American authors
- African American artists
- African Americans -- Education (Secondary) -- North Carolina
- Masks, African
- Liberia in motion pictures
- Liberia -- Economic conditions -- 1944-1971
- Liberia -- History -- 1944-1971
- United States -- Foreign relations -- Liberia
The Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Films were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as gifts and a purchase from 1999 to 2011.
Processed by Meghan Lyon, February 2009
Encoded by Meghan Lyon, February 2009
Addition 2011-0104 processed and finding aid updated by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, December 2011
Materials may not have been ordered and described beyond their original condition.
Accessions from 1999, 2003-0247, and 2011-0104 are represented in this finding aid.