Celebrate Black History Month With Rare Photos of Lena Horne and Martin Luther King Jr.

Illustration for article titled Celebrate Black History Month With Rare Photos of Lena Horne and Martin Luther King Jr.

February 1 marks the first day of Black History Month, when black culture gets a celebratory spotlight for 28 days... unless you’re like me and celebrate black brilliance every day. At the New York Times, a collection of previously unpublished shots of black stars, and their stories, are up for viewing.


Each of the photos, like one of famous actress and singer Lena Horne in a luxurious fur coat perched in her Manhattan penthouse apartment, comes with a story. Horne, for instance, was able to secure prime real estate in New York City at a time when building managers refused black tenants, thanks to the activism of fellow actor, singer and race man Harry Belafonte. Despite selling over a million records, Belafonte couldn’t find a white landlord to rent him an apartment. So he sent his white publicist to 300 West End Avenue, where he rented a four-bedroom space but Belafonte signed the lease. Upon learning Belafonte was the real tenant, the white landlord demanded he leave. Belafonte, of course, refused. Instead the activist bought the building through cloaked companies like a boss and rented space out to friends like Horne, who stayed in the penthouse with her white husband Lennie Hayton, which no doubt caused housing discrimination problems, too. From The New York Times:

“Lennie and I lived in hotels for years while we were on the road,” said Ms. Horne, who was 47 then. “And then we went through the hysteria of trying to find an apartment – all those stupid problems – and when we finally found a place that would admit both me and Lennie, we put our roots down.”

Other images include Martin Luther King Jr., the charred inside of Malcolm X’s Queens home after it was fire bombed days before he was assassinated, nerdy high school photos of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when his name was still Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., children racially integrating schools in Princeton, New Jersey, early Run-DMC concert shots, and more.

Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.

Image via AP.


Kate Dries

From the Times, on why many of these were never used:

Were the photos — or the people in them — not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words here at an institution long known as the Gray Lady?

More than now, we also put a premium back then on words, not pictures, which meant that many photographs that were taken were never published.

But other holes in coverage probably reflect the biases of some earlier editors at our news organization, long known as the newspaper of record. They and they alone determined who was newsworthy and who was not, at a time when black people were marginalized in society and in the media.