The discouragements of the later years did not prevent the Scurlocks from tending to their legacy, and in 1997, the Scurlock Studio Collection—some 250,000 negatives and 10,000 prints, plus cameras and other equipment—entered the Smithsonian Institution’s archives. “Due to its sheer size, the collection’s secrets are barely beginning to be uncovered,” Donna M. Wells and David E. Haberstich write in a catalog essay for “Picturing the Promise.”
But the more than 100 images now on exhibit hint at the scope and significance of the Scurlocks’ work. Throughout the bleakest days of segregation, with its privations and indignities, generations of black Washingtonians entered the Scurlock Studio confident they would be portrayed in the best light.
David Zax has written for Smithsonian on the photographers Emmet Gowin and Neal Slavin. He lives in New York City.