Portraits of an American community of colour
c. 1904 Portrait of the Thomas A. and Margaret Dillon Family. Virginia-born coachman Thomas A. Dillon and his wife, Margaret, a domestic servant and native of Newton, Massachusetts, pose in the parlour of their home at 4 Dewey Street with children Thomas, Margaret, and Mary. A poster on the wall commemorates President Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to the Worcester Agricultural Fair in 1902.
Born and raised in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, William Bullard worked as a photographer without a studio, visiting clients around the town with his camera strapped to his bicycle.
Though Bullard was white, his neighbours in the community of Beaver Brook were predominantly black and Native American, some of them recently settled arrivals from the southern U.S. and the Caribbean.
In the two decades before World War I, Bullard made over 200 portraits of people of colour in his neighbourhood, capturing them in their yards, gardens, and living rooms.
1900 Portrait of James J. and Jennie Bradley Johnson Family. James J. Johnson, of Nipmuc, Narragansett, and African American descent, and Jennie Bradley Johnson, a migrant from Charleston, South Carolina, pose with their daughters Jennie and May. James worked as a coachman and belonged to the King David Masonic Lodge. He died soon after this portrait was taken. Jennie later worked as a laundress.
c. 1904 Portrait of Raymond Schuyler and his Children, Ethel, Stephen, Beatrice, and Dorothea. A native of Troy, New York, Raymond Schuyler migrated to Worcester in 1887 to work for the Worcester Wire Works and later worked for the Boston and Maine Railroad. Active in All Saints Episcopal Church, the Masons, and Knights of Pythias, Schuyler was the oldest member of the Worcester Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when he died in 1956.
c. 1906 Portrait of a Mixed-Race Group, Including a Woman With a Guitar. This group may have been entertainers at an Old Home Days celebration, a popular event at the turn of the century held to commemorate the area’s rural past.
The glass negatives that Bullard left behind gathered dust until a few years ago, when Frank Morrill, the steward of the collection, started collaborating with students at Clark University to research the lives of the portrait sitters, using Bullard’s logbook to link faces to names.
Over 80 percent of the sitters were identified, making the Bullard collection an unusually cohesive and robust photographic record of a community of colour at the start of the 20th century.
1901 Portrait of Hattie, James Harold, and Clarence Ward. Hattie, Louis, Clarence, and James Harold Ward were the children of Mary Elizabeth Ward Wilson, a migrant from New Bern. James Harold, better known as “Boot,” eventually became a jazz drummer. Given the moniker “Hooks,” Clarence became the proprietor of a restaurant. Hattie worked as an assistant in a dentist’s office.
1900 Portrait of Richard G. Brown. Richard G. Brown was born in Virginia and worked as a labourer in a Worcester broom factory. In 1904, he opened a restaurant, Richard G. Brown & Co.
c. 1901 Portrait of Eighteen Girls and Boys at Sunday School. These girls and boys are probably Sunday School students from Bethel AME Church, dressed in black and white for the communion service held once a month, a tradition that continues to this day.
c. 1912 Portrait of Louise and Martha Harra. Fondly remembered by many present-day residents of Worcester, “Weezy” and “Marty” were the children of Herbert and Mary E. Price Harra and resided for many years on Mason Street, where Bullard took this photograph.
c. 1902 Portrait of Betty and Willis Coles. Posing on the porch of their home on Park Avenue, these Virginia migrants arrived in Massachusetts in the 1890s. Willis, who was a day labourer when this portrait was made, later became a pastor in Springfield, Massachusetts.
c. 1901 Portrait of Susie Idella Morris and Harry Clinton Morris. Susie and Harry Morris were the children of barber Sandy Morris, a migrant from New Orleans, and Susie Arkless Morris, of Narragansett descent. They were the great-great-grandchildren of Sampson Hazard, a Revolutionary War veteran.
c. 1902 Portrait of Ralph Mendis. Ralph Mendis was born in 1897 and is seen here at about age five. His mother, Frances, was part of the New Bern, North Carolina, migration to Worcester. His father was one of a handful of Jamaican immigrants who resided in the city.
c. 1902 Portrait of Zenobia Clark. Claude and Zenobia Clark were the children of barber Joseph C. Clark, a migrant from South Carolina, and Laurie Harden Clark, born in Georgia.
c. 1901 Portrait of Isaac (Ike) Perkins Wearing a Top Hat. Ike Perkins was a member of the Improved Benevolent Order of Elks of the World and posed for Bullard informal wear, worn by Elks for special ceremonies. Ike died in 1920 during a flu pandemic.
c. 1900 Portrait of David T. Oswell with His Viola. David Oswell, born in Boston, emigrated from St. John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, to Worcester in 1877. Oswell taught violin and guitar to prominent white families, writing musical scores performed throughout the city.
c. 1902 Portrait of Edward Perkins in His Garden. Camden migrant Edward Perkins poses in his lush garden of collard greens in the Beaver Brook neighbourhood, demonstrating the literal transplantation of Southern culture to the North.
1907 Portrait of Members of the Worcester Veterans Firemen’s Association. This photograph was likely taken at a firemen’s muster in Worcester’s Elm Park. Musters usually lasted two days, attracting the attendance of thousands and consisting of skill based competitions between local and visiting fire companies.