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August 22, 2014, 11:33 pm

Mosley documented life of a people

Philadelphia photographer John W. Mosley (1907–1969) was a self-taught photojournalist who specialized in documenting African-American culture in the city where he lived. His fascination with photography began when he was a young man in the 1920s, and his work flourished from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Mosley’s photographs were published in numerous African-American newspapers including The Philadelphia Tribune. He was a prolific photographer known to photograph up to four events every day, often working seven days a week. He captured the daily activities of the region’s Black community from family gatherings, social and cultural events, and Atlantic City vacations to famous leaders, entertainers and athletes. It was Mosley’s intention to represent his proud heritage and to rightfully portray African Americans in a positive manner during a difficult time of racism and segregation.

In the book titled, “The Journey of John W. Mosley,” author Charles L. Blockson wrote: “The Mosley photographs reflect the continuity of culture and introduces the viewer to important values that have withstood the test of time … They not only represent Philadelphia but the experiences and relationships of African Americans in cities throughout the United States. They are a testimony to the existence of an African-American humanity that warms the heart and soul as it stimulates the eye.”

Today, John W. Mosley’s photographs and negatives, estimated to number about 300,000, are preserved in the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of Temple University Libraries. In 1984, the collection was donated by historian, author and bibliophile Charles L. Blockson, who amassed one of the nation’s largest private collections that includes manuscripts, rare books, sheet music, letters, prints, drawings and objects related to the history and culture of people of African descent. For Blockson, the Mosley exhibit is part of his life-long quest to preserve the history and culture of African Americans and make it accessible to students, scholars and the public. According to Blockson, thousands of the negatives have yet to be devloped due to lack of funding.

“The best of this collection, we have no idea what it is because they haven’t been processed yet. We need a grant. Can you imagine these beautiful, historical pictures here with Dr. King, Adam Clayton Powell, Father Divine and others — all of our history? John Mosley took pictures of African people from the cradle to the grave. He took over 25,000 pictures and photographs of African Americans down in Atlantic City. He was in all the clubs, and he has one of the greatest jazz collections in the country. The collection at Temple has one of the largest African-American baseball collections in the country. It’s divine providence that these pictures are here today. It’s not me; I’m only the conduit — I’m going to pass on one of these days — it’s the legacy and the spirit of these people and John Mosley that we must honor.”

On exhibit between terminals E and F at the Philadelphia International Airport “A Celebration of African-American Life in Philadelphia, 1930s – 1960s: Selected Photographs by John W. Mosley” is open to the public through August.


Contact staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .