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Finding Aid for the Miriam Matthews Photograph collection, 1781-1989
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Miriam Matthews Photograph collection
    Date (inclusive): 1781-1989
    Collection number: 1889
    Collector: Matthews, Miriam, collector.
    Extent: 98 boxes (50 linear ft.)
    Abstract: The Miriam Matthews Photograph collection consists of 4,600 black and white photographs of varying sizes, negatives, captions and descriptions from museum exhibitions, and a slide carousel. The collection reflects Matthews' dedication to the preservation of African American history in Los Angeles. The chronology of the scenes and people depicted in this collection spans from the Spanish founding of the city in the late 18th century to the 1980s, with the bulk of the collection from the twentieth century. Key points of interest from the Spanish and Mexican eras include the founding Los Angeles pobladores of African descent, African American stagecoach drivers and overland guides to California, and the multiracial californio family of Pio Pico. Other points of interest after U.S. annexation in 1848 include the influx of middle class African Americans to Los Angeles between 1890 and 1915, as well as the churches, social, charitable, and fraternal organizations they formed during this period and through the 1980s. Matthews' collection also highlights those individuals who contributed to civil rights legislation and advocacy, those who were elected or appointed to government positions, popular entertainers, artists, and black-owned businesses. There is also substantial collection of photographs produced by black photographer Harry H. Adams, documenting life, politics, community service, and civil rights movement in Los Angeles in the 1960s.
    Language: Finding aid is written in English.
    Language of the Material: Materials are in English.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections for paging information.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    Open for research. STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UC Regents. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift/purchase from Charles Matthews, Jr., 2011.

    Processing Note

    Processed by Caroline Bunnell Harris in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), with assistance from Megan Hahn Fraser, June 2012.
    The processing of this collection was generously supported by Arcadia. 

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Miriam Matthews Photograph collection (Collection 1889). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 6952086 


    Miriam Matthews was born in Pensacola, Florida on August 6, 1905 to Reuben and Fannie Matthews. Two years later the Matthews family moved to a neighborhood of European immigrants in Los Angeles, just south of downtown, where her father found work as a house painter. Matthews received her Bachelor's degree from University of California at Berkeley in 1926 and her librarian's certificate a year later. Matthews was hired as the first black librarian in California by the Los Angeles Public Library in 1927, despite attempts to prevent her from knowing the date of the Civil Service examination. After working for ten years at the Los Angeles Public Library without promotion, Matthews took a leave of absence to pursue a Masters degree in Library Science at the University of Chicago. She was then promoted to a position as a regional librarian, supervising the management of several libraries until her retirement in 1960. Early on in her career, Matthews discovered a small collection of books detailing the role of African Americans, and people of African descent, in the founding of Los Angeles and began building her own collection of books, manuscripts, and photographs. Her work in the preservation and exhibition of Los Angeles' black past continued long after her retirement.

    Scope and Content

    The prominent black families and individuals represented in this collection are organized using Matthews' chronology and terminology. The titles given to them, such as "founders," "settlers," and "pioneers" reflect the context and values in which Matthews lived. Those designated as Founders were the original pobladores, a group of mixed race colonists, who established the pueblo of Los Angeles for New Spain. Manuel Camero and Jose Moreno, both of African descent, are highlighted in this collection. The Early Settlers include those of Spanish, Mexican, or American origin, who arrived after the founding in 1781. Juan Fernando Reyes, the first black mayor of Los Angeles, and other Californios of African descent, in particular, Pio Pico, are highlighted in this series. The Pioneers refer to the African American men and women who migrated to Los Angeles at the turn of the century, seeking greater freedom and opportunity than the Jim Crow South offered. The twentieth-century figures highlighted by Matthews included those who worked for the expansion of civil and human rights, such as Loren Miller and Ralph Bunche.
    Photographs of the daily lives of African Americans in Los Angeles include their involvement in churches, social organizations, civil rights movements, entertainment, sports and recreation, businesses and professions, parades, education, military, civil service, and street scenes.
    Harry H. Adams was a photographer for the California Eagle and Los Angeles Sentinel newspapers, and for churches, organizations, and individuals within the black community. While his photographic career spanned from 1955 to 1988, the bulk of the collection housed here is from the 1960s and includes images of civil rights movements, churches, schools, business, entertainment, police, sports, and street scenes.
    Material from museum and gallery exhibitions includes text, signage, and mounted photographs used at the California African American Museum, the California Museum of Industry, El Pueblo Historic Park, Los Angeles Public Library, and possibly other unidentified exhibitions. This series also includes a slide carousel and slides depicting the early history of African Americans in California.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Early California
    2. Daily Life in Black Los Angeles and California
    3. Black Photographers
    4. Museum and Gallery Exhibitions
    5. Prominent Individuals and Families

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    African Americans --California.
    California --History.

    Genres and Forms of Material


    Related Material

    Miriam Matthews papers (Collection 1804).   Available at Library Special Collections, UCLA.