By: Sara Hoover
|“Children’s Pantomime, ca 1940s,” featuring a pantomime troupe, was taken by Rev.
Taylor in his home studio on Hunter Avenue in the North Memphis Springdale community.
Rev. L.O. Taylor, former pastor of Olivet Baptist Church and once a candy maker, is
most remembered for lugging his bulky Eastman Kodak Camera No. 2- D, newfangled movie
camera and audio recording machine to churches and businesses in the Binghamton area
of Memphis. From the 1920s through the 1960s, he “opened a window into the African
“That’s one reason his collection is so unprecedented,” said Dr. Beverly Bond, U of
M associate professor of history and director of the African & African American studies
program in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I describe him as this Renaissance man.
He always needed to have something that he was doing, something new he was trying.
Preaching was what he did because he loved to preach. But he also was the center of
a community. He wanted to really show this community and have this community really
The Rev. L.O. Taylor Collection, housed at the Center for Southern Folklore in downtown
Memphis since Taylor’s death in 1977, is enormous. The multimedia aspects consist
of 15 hours of color and black-and-white film, 7,000 negatives, 500 prints and 100
78 rpm lacquer discs. It is also comprised of his book, Bits of Logic, a self-published collection of sermons and writings, plus songs, poems, handbills,
postcards, letters and church bulletins and audio interviews folklorists conducted
with friends and family of Rev. and Mrs. Taylor.
Dr. Beverly Bond gives a glimpse of Rev. L.O. Taylor’s life. (Lindsey Lissau photo)
Bond (BS ‘67, MA ‘69, PhD ‘96) is using the collection to write a biography on him.
She’s done two other books related to Memphis history — Memphis in Black & White and
Images of America: Beale Street — but didn’t think she would be the one writing this
When Center director Judy Peiser held a roundtable to discuss ways to generate resources
for the Center and get the Taylor Collection out in the community, Bond suggested
“I wasn’t really thinking of me because I do 19th century African-American history.
I don’t do 20th century history. A little later, Judy called me and said, ‘Would you
be interested in doing it?’ I said, ‘I could learn 20th century history because this
collection is so fantastic.’ It is really rare that a historian has access to all
of these photographs and the man’s writings and his papers. And it’s all in one place
and I don’t even have to leave town.”
Bond is currently on sabbatical, researching for the biography and has a research
assistant, Vivian Nwonye, an undergraduate student in African & African American studies
at the University.
The plan is to have the book, which will include many photos, finished within the
With this book, Bond hopes to change how people might approach the black experience.
“My target audience is people who want to understand what it was like to be an African
American in the 20th century and who may approach this — the African-American experience
is one where people are always struggling for their rights — but who have not really
approached it in the way of looking at what’s going on in the community, where people
are not necessarily struggling every day for their rights. They are just living.”
That’s the message Bond hopes to convey with Rev. Lonzie Odie Taylor (1899-1977) as
“He was really showing a community, where people are getting up in the morning, going
to work, living their lives, going to school, going to church on Sunday. All these
different parts of a community, that’s what I’m looking at — the community experience.
That’s what I really want people to see. This is just a story of a man who was a man.
He was a minister, but he was also a man who was trying to find some way of creative
expression. And also a way of showing people in his community that their lives had
value, everyday lives had value.”
His photographs and films showcased everyday black life in Memphis spanning almost
half a century. His audio recordings, which he began in the 1940s, were for most people
the first time they had heard or seen a moving picture of themselves. Throughout the
United States, there are not many intact black photographic collections. This collection
preserves and serves as a resource for people to know about black Memphis.
“As a component of this collection, a biography is very, very important,” said Peiser,
Center director and U of M alumna (MA ‘70). “You hear about the great photographers
everywhere, but there’s very few times you hear about the great photographers who
are also the great writers, who are also the filmmakers. This man was unique. I think
it’s important that we find those people in a community who documented the community
but because of their work take the community to a different level.”
Bond is also working with history chair Dr. Janann Sherman on two books due out in
2012 on the U of M’s 100-year history.