A Rare Discovery within the Collections.
A rare discovery was recently uncovered in the GRPM’s Collections — 69 black and white, photographic magic lantern slides depicting the Tuskegee Institute at the turn of the 20th century. The Tuskegee Institute, now referred to as Tuskegee University, is a private, historically black university, located in Tuskegee, Alabama. It is well known for its first president, Booker T. Washington, as the home of scientist George Washington Carver and of the World War II era Tuskegee Airmen.
The GRPM made this discovery as staff were digitizing the magic lantern slide collection, a process made possible through a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Magic lantern slides are images printed on transparent glass plates that were used extensively in education and entertainment throughout the early 20th century. With the help of Dr. Randal Maurice Jelks, a local historian who has written about Booker T. Washington’s visits to Grand Rapids, the GRPM staff was able to confirm that the slides were indeed early images of Tuskegee.
The GRPM’s magic lantern slides were widely circulated in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district for decades as an engaging teaching tool that could transport students around the world. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the slides by researchers because of their role in the history of technology and as a visual resource for local historians. With support from IMLS, the GRPM will digitize, catalog and rehouse roughly 5,000 magic lantern slides over the next year. The slides can be viewed online at (https://www.grpmcollections.org/Detail/collections/335) and in addition to the Tuskegee slides, include images on national, state, and local topics such as “World War I”, “Lumbering in Michigan,” and “General Motors Grand Rapids Stamping Division. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-245291-OMS-20].
The Tuskegee Institute magic lantern slides, as well as over 190,000 artifacts and specimens, can be explored from anywhere, at any time on the GRPM’s digital Collections website, available at grpmcollections.org.