Otis N. Pruitt and Calvin Shanks Photographic Collection, circa 1920s-1986

Creator: Pruitt, Otis N. (Otis Noel), 1891-1967.
Shanks, Calvin, 1926-1981.
Collection number: 5463
View finding aid. 

Abstract: Otis N. Pruitt and Calvin Shanks photographed life in Columbus, Miss., between the 1920s and 1980s. Pruitt, born in Mississippi in 1891, became interested in photography while photographing his children. He moved to Columbus to work in Henry Hoffmeister’s photography studio, also attending the Illinois School of Photography early in his career. In or around 1920, Pruitt bought out Hoffmeister, becoming the sole photographer in Columbus. Pruitt ran the studio until around 1960, when he sold the business to his assistant, Calvin Shanks. Pruitt died in 1967, and Shanks continued to run the studio until his death in 1981, but the studio remained in operation until about 1986. The collection includes images taken by Otis N. Pruitt and Calvin Shanks between the 1920s and 1980s chiefly in Lowndes County, Miss. Most of the images were created by Pruitt circa 1920s-1950s. They document his work as a commercial (for-hire) and studio photographer in Columbus. Images primarily depict the town and people, including local businesses, churches, residential areas, schools, events, and people. Of particular interest are images of visits by Mississippi state politicians, historic homes, the African American community, and civic groups. The collection also includes images from outside Columbus, including other locations within Mississippi, as well as in Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Quite a number of the photographs document African American individuals and groups in Mississippi, from churches to fraternal organizations to social clubs. A few examples included an African American family working in agriculture (Sheet Film 05463/00031), Cedar Grove M.B. Church (Folder 05463/01254), and the Colored Young Mens Christian Association (Sheet Film 05463/01531).

A number of images from this collection have been digitized and are available online. Click here to link to the finding aid for this collection and to access the digitized material.