The John A. Kouns
Collection is the life work of social justice photographer John Alexander Kouns. The
collection documents the Farmworkers Movement in California and the Civil Rights Movement
nationally. It also consists of images from peace and protest movements as well as the
senior commmunity in the San Francisco Bay Area and North Bay. A small portion of the
collection contains personal materials that date from 1884, as well as freelance industrial
and sports photography. A majority of the collection consists of photographic prints,
negatives, slides, clippings, ephemera, and audiovisual materials with bulk dates spanning
the 1950s to the 2000s.
John Alexander Kouns was a professional photographer who centered much of his work around
social justice movements like the United Farm Workers and Civil Rights Movements. He was
born to Lucille and Augustus Honshall Kouns in Alameda, California in 1929. Kouns grew up in
the Santa Clara Valley, where he picked prunes at the age of twelve and became a member of
the United Steelworkers Union at the age of sixteen. After reading Richard Wright's novel
Native Son, Kouns joined the NAACP at the age of fifteen. He
attended San Jose State College for two years studying physical education and photography
until he was drafted into the navy in 1951. Kouns trained in aerial photography at the Naval
School in Pensacola, Florida. Of segregation in the South, he said, "[it was] surreal,
unjust, and inhumane," and it sparked a life-long interest in documenting and supporting
social justice movements. He served a 2-year tour of duty during the Korean War taking
aerial photography in Japan. After the war, he completed his degree in Physical Education at
San Jose State in 1955.
Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of
this collection has been transferred to California State University, Northridge. Copyright
status for other materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected
by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the
written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be
commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any
use rests exclusively with the user.
This collection is open for research use.