For more than four decades, Carl Eugene Brown (1918-1998) was a recorder of history in Lowndes County and its surrounds. Frame by frame, he photographed community celebrations, grand openings, recitals, animals, businesses, proms, plays and portraits — the milestones and the everyday. A collection of about 20,000 of Brown’s negatives and prints was donated to the Billups-Garth Archives at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library in 2016 by Sam Laffoon, owner of The Grapevine, in memory of his late wife, Kittie C. Laffoon.
Since then, Archives staff and volunteers have processed almost 6,000 images from Brown’s work in the 1940s and 1950s, which are now available for research. Roughly 1,500 of those have been digitized for inclusion on the Mississippi Digital Library. For the past year, staff has concentrated on processing images from the 1960s.
“We are anticipating at least two more years before finishing that decade,” said archivist Mona Vance-Ali. She estimates the library has almost triple the number of images from the ’60s as from the two decades before.
Brown was born in 1918 in Bentonia and moved to Columbus in 1929. He developed an interest in photography during his service in World War II. After the war, he opened a local studio. His collection at the library continues up to the early 1980s.
Digitized images from the 1940s-1950s viewable online include dated photographs at well-known businesses of the time such as American Bosch, Mitchell Engineering Co., the Straight 8 Cafe and McClure Furniture Co. There are church groups, school reunions, Pilgrimage homes, gas stations, baseball teams, Boy Scouts and “dog shots for Mr. Shelly.”
The faces are, for the most part, nameless. Once the collection is completely processed, Vance-Ali plans to elicit the community’s assistance in identifying individuals.
In the meantime, the careful work of preserving the images and making more available to the public continues. Together, they develop a “snapshot” in time, of a small Mississippi town and a few of the moments that helped shape it.
Editor’s note: See more photographs at the Mississippi Digital Library site, msdiglib.org, and search Carl Brown.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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