Tag Archives: John H. White

John H. White: Five Minutes of Light


Chicago-based photographer John H. White (whose work has been highlighted here many times) was awarded the Pulitzer for general excellence in photography in 1982. This general excellence award is no longer awarded. This is the story of the photo (above) that won him his award.

Mr. White was assigned to go to a local dance school to take some pictures on a cloudy day. He didn’t want to use unnatural light (such as a flash) for his photos, so White prayed to God that he would have an afternoon of light. He didn’t get it. Next, he prayed for 15 minutes of light. Still nothing.john_white

“How about 5 minutes of light, God?” he asked. And then, suddenly, a ray of light that came piercing through one of the studio’s windows and he took his pictures.

“I asked for five minutes of light and He gave me a Pulitzer Prize.”

In celebration, it’s Chicago’s Staple Singers with “Uncloudy Day” from 1959.  Released on local Vee Jay Records, it features haunting echoey guitar licks, other-worldly harmonies, and beautifully sparse acoustic production.  The song also forged a brand of socially-conscious gospel that The Staples would eventually be known the world over for.

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Portraits of Black Chicago: The Beat Goes On

black_bongo_playerBlack bongo player performs at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the annual PUSH [People United to Save Humanity] ‘Black Expo’ in the fall of 1973. October 1973

Chicago’s PUSH Black Expo was a powerful tour de force for Black Businesses nationwide at the time this photo was shot.  Time magazine stated in a 1971 article: When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America’s fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace. Wow.   There was even a major motion picture shot to document one year’s occurrence, entitled “Save the Children” (after that year’s theme).  So what happened?

Almost exactly twenty years after the above photo was shot, the following was published in the Chicago Reporter:

Black Expo: Taking Care of Business?

(originally published in the Chicago Reporter in September 1993)

When about 250,000 people, most of them African Americans, turned out for this year’s Chicago Black Expo, many were offered fried chicken and menthol cigarettes…

(click the link below for original footage of Marvin Gaye at the PUSH Expo)

marvin gaye live at the expo after the jump


Portraits of Black Chicago: Cool Off

black_youngstersBlack youngsters cool off with fire hydrant water on Chicago’s South Side in the Woodlawn community… June 1973

“…The kids don’t go to the city beaches and use the fire hydrants to cool off instead. It’s a tradition in the community, comprised of very low income people. The area has high crime and fire records. From 1960 to 1970 the percentage of Chicago blacks with income of $7,000 or more jumped from 26% to 58%.”*  caption by John H. White.

* according to Paul Louis Street’s Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis, the median income for Blacks in Chicago in 2000 was “more than $6,000 less than the Economic Policy Institute’s “basic family budget”…for even a small family of one parent and two children ($35,307).  On the flip of this, the median white income in the city was $11,000 more than the that basic family budget.

from the National Archives website:

From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city’s African American community. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

I am a big fan of John H. White’s photography.  He has that magic ability to tell a whole story with one frame.  click here for his website


taken from the National Archives and Records Administration Website


Portraits of Black Chicago: The Fruit of Islam

the_fruit_of_islam

The Fruit of Islam,’ a special group of bodyguards for Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, sits at the bottom of the platform while he delivers his annual Savior’s Day message in Chicago. March 1974.

“….The city is headquarters for the Black Muslims. Their $75 million dollar empire includes a mosque, newspaper, university, restaurants, real estate, bank, and variety of retail stores. Muhammad died February 25, 1975.” – caption by John H. White

UPDATE:  Since 1978, Louis Farrakhan has been the leader of a reconstituted Nation of Islam.  The Nation of Islam’s headquarters is still located in Chicago, Illinois, and its flagship Mosque No. 2, Mosque Maryam is on South Stony Island Avenue.

according to Wikipedia:

In an interview on NBC‘s Meet the Press, Louis Farrakhan was asked by Tim Russert to explain the Nation of Islam’s view on separation:

“Tim Russert: Once a week, on the back page [of your newspaper] is The Muslim Program, “What the Muslims Want,” [written in 1965]. The first is in terms of territory, “Since we cannot get along with them in peace and equality, we believe our contributions to this land and the suffering forced upon us by white America justifies our demand for complete separation in a state or territory of our own.” Is that your view in 1997, a separate state for Black Americans?”

“Minister Louis Farrakhan: First, the program starts with number one. That is number four. The first part of that program is that we want freedom, a full and complete freedom. The second is, we want justice. We want equal justice under the law, and we want justice applied equally to all, regardless of race or class or color. And the third is that we want equality. We want equal membership in society with the best in civilized society. If we can get that within the political, economic, social system of America, there’s no need for point number four. But if we cannot get along in peace after giving America 400 years of our service and sweat and labor, then, of course, separation would be the solution to our race problem.”

For more on the Nation, click here.

from the National Archives website:

From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city’s African-American community. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

I am a big fan of John H. White’s photography.  He has that magic ability to tell a whole story with one frame.  click here for his website


Portraits of Black Chicago: High School Student

westinghouse_student2A student at the Westinghouse Industrial Vocation School on Chicago’s West Side. May 1973

“…A student at the Westinghouse Industrial Vocation School on Chicago’s West Side*. She is one of the nearly 1.2 million black people who make up over a third of the population of Chicago**. It is one of the many black faces in this project that portray life in all its seasons. The photos are portraits that reflect pride, love, beauty, hope, struggle, joy, hate, frustration, discontent, worship, and faith. She is a member of her race who is proud of her heritage.”  caption by John H. White

*Westinghouse was demolished in 2009, and a new campus was completed at 3223 West Franklin Boulevard.  No longer a Vocational School; it is now a selective enrollment, college preparatory high school.  The former location of Westinghouse was a former candy factory, listed in the American Institute of Architects’ Guide to Chicago.

**as of the 2000 U.S. Census, the City of Chicago’s Black Population is 1.1 million, a very similar statistic to back in 1973.  However, this data excludes suburban areas (whose African-American populations, in many cases, have swelled).    Also of note:  the 1970 population of Chicago was 3,620, 962.  As of 2000, it was 2,896,016 people

NOTE: I included his original captions here; but I also included my own updates of said captions.

from the National Archives website:

From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city’s African American community. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

I am a big fan of John H. White’s photography.  He has that magic ability to tell a whole story with one frame. click here for his website



taken from the National Archives and Records Administration Website


Vintage Portraits of Black Chicago: Sidewalk Fruit Vendors

black_sidewalkBlack sidewalk salesmen arranging their fresh fruits and vegetables on Chicago`s South Side. Photographed by John H. White, June 1973

“…Many of the city`s black businessmen started small and grew by working hard. Today Chicago is believed to be the black business capital of the United States. Black Enterprise Magazine reported in 1973 that the city had 14 of the top 100 black owned businesses in the country, one more than New York City**.”  caption by John H. White.

** in 2008, Black Enterprise named its 35th annual list of Top Black-Owned Businesses in America.  Illinois had 17 companies on the list, including Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo and Johnson Publishing Co.  Only Michigan had more, with 23 (out of 100).  Black Enterprise’s list back in 1973 was a first for the magazine.

from the National Archives website:

From June through October 1973 and briefly during the spring of 1974, John H. White, a 28-year-old photographer with the Chicago Daily News, worked for the federal government photographing Chicago, especially the city’s African American community. As White reflected recently, he saw his assignment as “an opportunity to capture a slice of life, to capture history.”

Today, John White is a staff photographer with the Chicago Sun-Times. He has won hundreds of awards, and his work has been exhibited and published widely. In 1982 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

(taken from the National Archives and Records Administration Website)

I am a big fan of John H. White’s photography.  He has that magic ability to tell a whole story with one frame.  click here for his website

NOTE: I included his original captions here; but I also included my own updates of said captions.