Laura Fitzpatrick poses in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1940s. She was 16 at the time, said her son Dan Evans. From 1938-1948, Fitzpatrick photographed her friends and neighbors in Brooklyn and kept a detailed scrapbook of 500 photographs. Her remarkable photos, unseen by the public for years, are now part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Some of Fitzpatrick's friends pose near a lamp shop. Evans had possession of his mother's scrapbook after her death, which happened 30 years ago on March 23. He said Smithsonian curators were amazed when they first saw her photos. "You can find photos like my mother's that are 70-80 years old, but typically people don't know who's in the photos, they don't know where the photos were from," Evans said. "But my mother really documented how African-Americans, for a 10-year period, adjusted to life in the North coming from the rural South. And it showed how communities were formed."
One of Fitzpatrick's friends, Lula, swims at Coney Island in 1945. Fitzpatrick's scrapbook is part of a museum exhibit called "Everyday Beauty," which looks at African-American history and culture over the last 100 years.
Evans said his mother loved taking portraits. "She took a lot of portraits of individuals and portraits of families," he said. "But then sometimes she would just catch people on the street. She lived in a tenement building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, on a street called Broadway, and they had a low roof. And she turned the rooftop into a photo studio."
One of Fitzpatrick's friends is seen in front of a building at Riverside Park in Harlem. Evans said his mother was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and moved to New York when she was 10 years old. She started taking photos when she was 11, using an Agfa Billy camera her mother bought her.
Two people sunbathe at Coney Island. Evans said at the time, there were hardly any women photographers in Brooklyn, much less African-American photographers. "My mother took it as a personal mission to become the historian for this time period because no one else had a camera," he said.
People stand outside an employment agency in 1944. Evans said times were tough for many African-Americans in the city, but the new generation was filled with hope. "They were in a position where their parents weren't," he said. "Where they were able to get a good education and go to that Star Employment Agency and say: 'Hey, we're ready to work. We're ready to become part of society and contribute. We want to be taxpayers.' They were in positions where they can go to high school, they can go to college."
Evans said that in a way, his mother's photos are a counter-narrative. "A lot of times, people think, 'Well, African-Americans coming north, they were very poor and they were downtrodden.' But my mother's photos really show the positive side of life."
Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Evans' grandmother, is on the right in this photo. "If you look at the faces, this is one of the few where nobody's smiling," Evans said. "To me, since these were the parents, this photo displays the pain that was hidden behind what their lives were about at times. That it was no picnic. ... . All three of these women were raised in the segregated South."
This photo from 1945 was entitled Ginger. "I'm still trying to track down some of the people who are in these photos," Evans said. "They would really be between like 79-90 years old at this time. I have a lot of names. ... The goal is to meet more of the people in the photographs and their descendants."
Fitzpatrick's friend Floria is photographed in 1946. "As I'm told by my grandma, (my mother) looked into opportunities to become a professional photographer but really the opportunities weren't there," Evans said. Fitzpatrick married Ernest Evans in 1950, then became a registered nurse and had four children. She continued to take photos as a hobby.
Jewell Howell poses at Fitzpatrick's rooftop studio. Evans said everyone dressed up for photos back then, even the teenagers. "And my mother was smart because she took a lot of photos on Sunday when they came from church," Evans said. "She knew they would have their Sunday best clothing on." Fitzpatrick's photos will be on display at the Smithsonian museum until January 2018.