Highlights of the Albert Durant Photography Collection

Dublin Core


Highlights of the Albert Durant Photography Collection


The Albert Durant Photography Collection encompasses photoprints, negatives, slides, and personal papers that document the photographic production of Williamsburg's first black city-licensed photographer, Albert Durant. Durant's photographic output provides a priceless visual history of African American life in Williamsburg, Virginia and surrounding communities from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Since the collection encompasses ten thousand images, highlights of some of the major subject categories covered by the photos are presented here.

The collection provides a fascinating glimpse into African American social life in Williamsburg during the 1940s and 1950s. Durant captured the atmosphere of local jazz and night clubs through scenes of performers singing and dancing and audiences socializing. Durant also acted as photographer for many African American clubs and organizations. Along with taking formal group portraits, he documented these groups through informal shots of meetings, dinners, and special events.

African American student life during segregation is also featured in this visual archive. While a high school student at James City County Training School, Durant began developing his interest in photography by taking images of student activities, including sports, dances, plays, assemblies, and graduations. As an adult, Durant acted as a portrait photographer for Junior-Senior Proms at local black high schools and also documented the sports teams, marching bands, choirs, students, and faculty at Bruton Heights School in Williamsburg.

African American spiritual life is another strength of the collection. Durant photographed church groups, such as choirs and missionary circles, as well as individuals participating in rituals at many different black churches in the Williamsburg area.

Occupations, working conditions, and business opportunities for African Americans in Williamsburg are recorded in Durant's photos, too. The photos show African Americans working in restaurants, beauty and barber shops, stores, offices, dry cleaners, and gas stations.

Albert Wadsworth Durant was born on February 2, 1920 in New York City to Samuel and Bessie Durant. His mother was a native of Williamsburg who moved with her husband to New York and worked as a domestic servant for a family. After the death of her husband, who was originally from the West Indies, Bessie Durant and her children relocated to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1929.

At age 36, Durant married Elsie Lucille Ferguson on August 18, 1956. They raised three sons, Albert W. Durant Jr., Byron Murphy, and Roderick Ferguson, and two daughters, Yvette Durant and Deanna Ferguson.

Albert Durant ran his own chauffeuring and limousine business in the Williamsburg area, providing services to many distinguished visitors to the city, including the Queen Mother of England, the Prince of Japan, and various chief justices. He often took his customers on excursions to local historic sites, including Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and the James River plantations. Through course work at the College of William and Mary, Durant acquired a background in American history which enabled him to provide historical commentary as he drove customers through the countryside.

Durant's contacts at the College of William and Mary sparked his initial interest in photography and once he had obtained equipment and training, Durant began creating his own historical record of the Williamsburg area. He produced hundreds of portraits documenting the families and activities of African American residents and also documented significant events, places, and persons in and around Williamsburg.

In addition, Albert Durant worked to improve conditions for African Americans in Williamsburg by serving in various positions in the city's government. He acted as the first black Justice of the Peace and Bail Commissioner in Williamsburg and served as the first black magistrate of the General District Court from his appointment in 1962 until his retirement in 1975.

Albert Durant died at age 71 on April 14, 1991.