Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dreams of white satin and veil

As the time for their wedding approached, Elise and Edwin planned their nuptials in a series of letters, like this one she wrote that is dated July 4th, 1920. Teddy's favorite cousin, Rosalie Mickey, was visiting New York and planning her own wedding, which unlike Teddy and Elise's, was to be a formal one.

Dear Heart,
You will be surprised to know that Rosalee handed me your dearest letter while we were preparing for bed. Yes she is with me. They were filled up at the "Y" building and I just lost my roommate that morning so what else to do but take her to my house. And so we are quite at home. ...

I too have always wanted to know myself in white satin and veil and orange blossoms; it has been one of my life's dreams. I shall have me a white dress however for the reception. And there shall be a few other bits of finery and we'll only miss the veil but it can't be helped. So let us forget what we might have done and perfect what we shall do.

I am very sorry Marie is still ill. Had a letter from her yesterday, very pessimistic, but nothing can disturb the tranquility of my mind. I am treading on air air, happy? I should say! When ever I allow my mind to dwell on our immediate future, my heart goes pounding away, carrying me off on a wave of happiness that frightens me and causes me to send up a silent petition to Him who holds our destinies acknowledging my unworthingess and begging a long, long life and a continuance of youth that I might enjoy -- you. ...

So dearest boy, go right ahead, do what you think best and when you come here we can talk of the Studio. The biggest thing on that is the camera but we need a few furnishings for our house first.

For today -- bye bye. Rosalee is asleep or else I'm sure she'd say she arrived safely and is very comfortable.

Dare I hope to be surprised with another letter tomorrow?

Your very own

Elise's first letter to Teddy was followed by a second, in which she expresses her frustration that he is not only unable to visit her in New York but also uncommunicative. She is resigned to continuing to make their plans by mail.

My dear Mr. Edwin Augustus,

I am at a loss "where to start to begin to commence" talking to you. For the first time that I can remember, I find it hard to write. Of course I had been hoping, wishing, longing to see you this month and had my mind all set on our last heart to heart talk, the probable settlement of business, a little while of "just us" away off to ourselves, up the Hudson, maybe. Now I must tear that up, rout it out and replace that by planning my home coming.

Well, I have waited, I am waiting and can still wait. Am not at all in any hurry. I'm working, you see, and the job's mine as long as I want it. Had to do something, this was offered and it looked better than hunting when I was very much in need.

You know how much I enjoy telling you things and the pleasure there would have been in writing you every day if I had had the slightest encouragement, but far be it from me to thrust unwelcomed missives at you. If you wanted to know what I was doing the simplest thing to have done was to write. ...

Now then here's a try at what I think. Since you're not coming here, I'll begin immediately to look up studio paraphernalia and as soon as I find something worthwhile will let you know so you may cash up.

I had hoped we could use two rooms of the apartment across the hall for the Studio but that is rented, is it now? Could I have your studio for a dark room? It's almost impossible to discuss this in this manner.

What do you say to my coming home first and fixing the Studio after I'm there. I could get the camera and some things that could not be very easily ordered and then after the party get to work on that? As to my thots on the "party." It would please me much to have you come here for me and have done with it with as little fuss as possible, and you see there wouldn't be any fuss expected on this end.

But to come home and have it there means that your family and my family and their friends and acquaintances expect us to have a show. It would be better if there was lots of money of course. There have been dreams of white satin and floating veils, flowers, music etc., etc. etc. But I've had to come down out of the clouds very often that I'm quite used to it.

... As to the time, how about September? One year since I've seen you. How I long for the feel of your arms about me, the thot sends the blood rushing to my brain. ...

I have no idea of your idea of "taking me off properly" so you'll have to let me hear from you. And for God's sake don't wait two months again or I won't be responsible for what I may do. ...

Well, sweetheart, it's up to you, fix your nest and then come get your bird -- and "we'll live happy ever after" -- provided you promise not to fuss at me over the table during mealtimes -- it's bad for digestion. ...

With all my love, and longing for you. I am your very own


Sunday, July 20, 2008


During his lifetime, Edwin A. Harleston received a great deal of attention for his work as an artist. His paintings have been exhibited at major museums, galleries and libraries, and cited in numerous books, articles, catalogs and other publications.

More recently, scholars documenting the role of women in American history have shown interest in Elise F. Harleston as a pioneering black female photographer. Besides the period in the 1920s, when her photos were displayed at street level to attract customers to the Harleston Studio in downtown Charleston, her work was only publicly exhibited 20 years after her death -- in the 1993 show "Conflict and Transcendence: African American Art in South Carolina," organized by the Columbia Museum of Art.

I have written articles about Elise for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ("Portrait of an Artist," Dec. 8, 1996), BET Weekend Magazine ("Picture Perfect," March 1997) and the Charleston Post & Courier ("Into the Light," May 7, 2006).

My mother, Edwina "Gussie" Harleston Whitlock, wrote a biographical sketch about her Uncle Teddy for an exhibition organized by Your Heritage House Museum in Detroit, and she collaborated on a book about the Harleston family that was published by HarperCollins in 2001, "The Sweet Hell Inside." That book was written by Edward Ball, who won the National Book Award for his "Slaves in the Family."

The couple is also mentioned in Edmund L. Drago's "Initiative, Paternalism and Race Relations: Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute," published in 1990 by the University of Georgia Press, and other books.

Below is a list of publications that cite Elise and Edwin Harleston.


Horwitz, Margot F. (1996). A Female Focus: Great Women Photographers, p. 41-43.

Moutoussamy-Ashe, Jeanne (1986). Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers pp. 34-39.

Rosenblum, Naomi. (1994). A History of Women Photographers pp. 150-151.

Severens, Martha R. (1998). The Charleston Renaissance. pp. 155-156, 180.

Teal, Harvey S. (2001). Partners With the Sun: South Carolina Photographers -- 1840-1940 pp. 291-292, 299, 321.

Willis, Deborah (2000). Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present. pp. 37, 46, 69.


Adams, Myron W. (1930). A History of Atlanta University: 1865-1929, p. 106.

Allen, Simona A. (1972). Introduction. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140 (Nov. 1928): 243.

Art Digest 6 (Feb. 15, 1931): 7.

Artists Proof 11 (1971): 27.

Arts in Society 5 (Summer/Fall 1968): 259.

Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1933). Exhibition.

Atlanta University Bulletin (Dec. 1941): 6.

Bardolph, Richard (1959). The Negro Vanguard. pp. 181-184.

Barnwell, Andrea D. (1999). The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art. pp. 103, 157.

Baskin, Wade, and Runes, Richard N. (1973). Dictionary of Black Culture, pp. 29, 201.

Brawley, Benjamin G. (1918). The Negro in Literature and Art in the United States, p. 104.

Brown, Eugene Jesse (1934). "A Short History of Negro Art," p. 513.

Brown, Marion E. (1966a). "The Negro in the Fine Arts," p. 768.

Bulletin of the Association of American Colleges 17 (Nov. 1931): 363.

Cederholm, Theresa Dickason (1973). Afro-American Artists: A Bio-bibliographical Directory, p. 117-118.

Charleston Evening Post (May 13, 1966): B-12. "E.A. Harleston Paintings Are Being Exhibited." On solo at Old Slave Mart Museum.

Charleston magazine (May 2004): 86-93. "The Invisible Artist: The Life and Art of E.A. Harleston," by James Hutchisson; illus.; photo.

Chase, Judith Wragg (1971). Afro-American Art and Craft, pp. 113, 115.

Chicago Art Institute Scrapbook 54 (Aug. 1927-Mar. 1928): 62. "The Bible Student."

Christian Education 15 (Nov. 1931): 102.

City University of New York (1967). Evolution, p. 63.

The Crisis 22 (Jun 1921): 59. Photo of Harleston.

_ 29 (Mar. 1925): 223. "The Horizon." Notes Harleston portrait, commission from blacks in Delaware; illus.; photo.

_ 49 (April 1942): 117.

Dallas, Texas Centennial Exposition (c.1936). Thumb Nail Sketches, p. 4.

Dawson, Charles C. (1929). "Celebrated Negro Artists," p. 27.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (1972). Reflections.

Denmark (1971). "Black Artists," p. 298.

Dover (1960). American Negro Art, pp. 31, 48p pl. 34.

Driskell, David C. (1975). "Essay." In Amistad II: Afro-American Art. p. 46.

_ (1976). Two Centuries of Black American Art. pp. 57, 136.

DuBois, William Edward Burghardt (1924). The Gift of Black Folk. p. 313.

DuSable Museum of African American History (c. 1969). 1970 Calendar.

"Edwin A. Harleston, Painter of an Era, 1882-1931," exhibition catalog, Your Heritage House Museum, 1983.

Embree, Edwin R. (1931). Brown America: The Story of a New Race. p. 247.

Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1963), Vol. 16, p. 200.

Fax, Elton Clay (1969). "The American Negro Artist." In In Black American: 1968 -- The Year of Awakening, p. 224.

_ (1971). Seventeen Black Artists, p. 11.

_ (1977). Black Artists of the New Generation, p. 160.

Ferguson, Franklin Fields. (1969) Negro American: A History, p. 118.

Finkelstein, Sidney (1955). Charles White, ein Kunstler Amerikas, p. 11.

Fisk University (1975). Amistad II: Afro-American Art, p. 70.

Franklin, John Hope (1956). From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. p. 501.

_ (1974). From Slavery. p. 382.

Gaither, Edmund Barry (1976). "Afro-American Art." In The Black American Reference Book, p. 839.

Gordon, Allan Moran (1974). Introduction, West Coast '74: Black Image.

Gordon, Asa H. (1929, 1971). Sketches of Negro Life and History in South Carolina, p. 140.

Grigsby, Jefferson Eugene Jr. (1977). Art and Ethnics: Background for Teaching Youth in a Pluralistic Society, pp. 4, 101.

Harmon Foundation (1931). Exhibition of the Work of Negro Artists, pp. 21, 26, 42, bc.

Hatch-Billops Collection (1979). Hatch-Billops Collection Inc., Archives of Black Cultural History, p. 5.

Herring, James Vernon (1967). "The American Negro as Craftsman and Artist." In The Negro in Music and Art, p. 215.

High Museum of Art (1973). Highlights from the Atlanta University Collection of Afro-American Art.

Irvine, Betty Jo (1969). Fine Arts and the Black American, p. 9.

Journal of Negro Education 8 (July 1939): 526.

Journal of Negro History 19 (Jan. 1934): 6.

Locke, Alain LeRoy (1925). "The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts." In The New Negro: An Interpretation, p. 266.

_ (1932). "Negro Art." In Encyclopaedia Britannica, p. 198.

_ (1940). The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art, pp. 25, 132.

_ (1975). "Legacy," p. 240.

Magazine of Art 23 (Sept. 1931): 215.

McDaniel, Maurine Akua (1994). Edwin Augustus Harleston, Portrait Painter 1882-1931

Monro, Isabel Stevenson and Monro, Kate M. (1948). Index to Reproductions of American Paintings, p. 279.

National Center of Afro-American Artists, Museum of (1970). Afro-American Artists.

Negro History Bulletin 2 (Apr. 1939): 58.

_ 30 (Oct. 1967): 7.

New York Times (Aug. 15, 1925): 19, "Prizes Are Awarded to Negro Artists."

Opportunity 2 (Jan. 1924): 21-22. Madeline G. Allison, "Harleston! Who is E.A. Harleston?" Biography; illus.

Pittsburgh Courier (July 29, 1950): 6, "Progress of the Negro in Art During the Past Fifty Years: Negro Artists Gain Recognition After Long Battle."

Ploski, Harry A. and Brown, Roscoe C. (1967). The Negro Almanac, p. 632.

Porter, James Amos (1943). Modern Negro Art, pp. 95, 106, 108, 109, 226.

Powell, Richard J. (1997). Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century. p. 39.

Robb, Frederic H. (1929). The Book of Achievement -- The World Over: The Negro in Chicago, 1779-1929, pp. 19, 27, 198.

Severens, Martha R. (1998). The Charleston Renaissance. pp. 136, 150, 153, 154-156, 180

St. Louis Public Library (1972). An Index to Black American Artists, p. 20.

Schatz, Walter (1971). Directory of Afro-American Resources, SC 1.2.

Serif 7 (Dec. 1970): 35, "A Checklist of Afro-American Art and Artists."

Simms' Blue Book and National Business and Professional Directory (1923). Harleston biograpy and photo, p. 266.

Southern Workman 53 (Apr. 1924): 149, "Negro Art Exhibit," on show Feb. 4-11 sponsored by Literary Round Table, Albany, N.Y.

Stoelting, Winifred L. (1978). "Hale Woodruff, Artist and Teacher: Through the Atlanta Years," pp. 119, 185.

Tanner Art Galleries (1940). Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro (1851-1940).

The Times (London) (Dec. 30, 1927): 8 "Negro in Art Week."

United Asia 5 (June 1953): 182, "The Negro in the Arts."

University of South Alabama (1970). Afro-American Art: Slide Catalog, p. 85.

Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of Negro Descent in America 1 (1927): 84.



Boone Hall Plantation, ca. 1925
By Edwin Harleston (1882 – 1931)
Oil on canvas
© Image Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association

The Bible Student

Miss Bailey With the African Shawl
© Edwin H. Whitlock

Portrait of Aaron Douglas
Gibbes Museum of Art

The Nurse
Gibbes Museum of Art

Charleston Shrimp Man

The Honey Man

The Old Servant

An Old Veteran

Portrait of Pierre S. DuPont

Portrait of the Artist's Wife
Harmon Foundation Collection
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The Soldier

A Type


Sunday, July 13, 2008

June 1920

Uncle Teddy was thirty-eight years old and had never been married, but soon he would take a wife. In his last year of bachelorhood, he spent as much time as possible traveling around the country -- painting, trying to drum up new commissions, visiting family and friends, and attending conferences. In June of 1920, still president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, he was in Atlanta for the organization's regional conference, where he witnessed a historic event: his mentor DuBois received the organization's highest honor that year.

Atlanta, June 2, '20

My Sweetie,
I did come to Atlanta though at the time of the receipt of your card I was by no means sure if I could make it. Many of our folks urged that I come to the conference. It is a fine gathering quite worthy of the cause, and I have been very much inspired by hearing the finer things said here in the heart of the Cracker country.

Have met many old friends and acquaintances of other days, among them the darling Chrystal Bird.

There has been time to do nothing but attend the three sessions a day closing at midnight, but I may remain over a few days.

I have been anxious to have a word from you but as I expect so soon to return I shall have a hatful of anticipation until I get home. Shall write you again before I get back.

Dr. DuBois was awarded the Spingarn Medal yesterday at a most beautiful ceremony on the campus of Atlanta Univ.

Oh say! Have wished that this could have been my honeymoon trip but it has been impossible. However it will not be afar – if you say so.

With love and best wishes with a kiss and another and another ad infinitum ...

Elise's response to Teddy's June 2 letter is missing, along with any others she might have written while he was away from home. In this one, whose envelope bore the date June 29, 1920, she gently scolds him for his lack of communication and gives him instructions on how to prepare for their new life together.

Dearest and bestest,
Having waited what seems months to hear from you, I feel it my Christian duty to remind you that I love you just the same and that I would be very happy to have a "few lines hoping I'm well" and saying you love me still.

Long dreary days of silence make me wonder just what kind of love you have for me. I'm beginning to think it is "tainted," that it is not "all wool, yard wide, dyed in the yarn" kind. Will you say aught to the contrary?

Of course I've heard you have been travelling around the country and I know they don't sell stamps nor issue telegrams in those little by-ways where the trains carried you, so I forgive you for not writing me the past months altho you did say you'd write me before you left Atlanta. So in order to get into my good graces again, you'll have to go back to Atlanta and write -- see?

Or else -- sit right down now this very minute and write me.

I suppose you've been selecting the dumb witnesses of our future happiness and if you have made me a white kitchen, a dark cool looking dining & living room and a delightful bedroom somewhat on the order of [your sister] Eloise (don't forget the vanity table), why I'm ready to come to or rather with you whenever you say -- but please say -- write -- write if you only say you're thinking of doing something.

Don't forget the pots and pans and groceries and tea wagon and can opener and ice pick and vacuum cleaner and electric coffee percolater. Have the telephone extension made to top floor and the little table beside the bed for the telephone and electric floor lamp. ...

Although she had been away from home for months and was eager to settle down, Tantie received a letter from Teddy hinting of his desire for her to continue her studies at Tuskegee Institute under Cornelius M. Battey, "the dean of black photographers." Battey's most famous student was the legendary P.H. Polk.

June 30, 1920

Your gentle letter was awaiting my arrival from the “provinces” and your card no. 1 with its reminder. Then came your other card – no. 2 with its little Threat and a’ that. ...

Why didn’t you ask me something of my trip? You surely are interested in my wanderings. Let me tell you of one incident: I went to Tuskegee. I wanted to see a few people and a few things there – Halsey, my classmate, who runs things in a measure; his wife, one of our crew at A.U. and another gentleman whom I hope you will soon know, Mr. Battey, the real photographer – the artist par excellence in his line, head of the budding school of photography there.

I want you to get some of his amazing skill, and have already written him about you. I think he may be in your city soon and if he does you can talk shop with him.
Perhaps next summer, if you care to do so, you can work with him at Tuskegee in their wonderful new building, a part of which is designed especially for his work. He is not very enthusiastic over your school, but one could hardly expect one of his calibre to be so – he is one of the “cracks” of the world.

Perhaps you will tolerate my mentioning this at length because it may have a definite bearing upon our “business.”

You see, it’s a bad thing to be poor [when planning a wedding], for this is a time when the erstwhile “comfortable” and even the “well-to-do” people must be considered as poor, and we are surely in that category.

Now, suppose you come home. Could we very well do without a “church and reception” wedding? Would you be prepared to fashion a sure-enough trousseau? I went to the Ransier-Gaillard reception downstairs and it was merely a pleasant dance given by Tom. The Dawson LeRoach affair was shoddy.

Or would you prefer to have me come for you in New York, take a trip eastward and then return to the Sunny South?

I confess I have forever dreaded the idea of the ordeal of a public wedding with its stiffness and pomp relieved by the coarse jests of certain “friends” who would be funny; but on the other hand I have so admired a bride that never have I dared to hope to be worthy of anything so ethereal and have always wondered that the average bridegroom should dare to presume to call something so beautiful and holy “his own.” But nothing is to be denied a bride, Lise, and I will do as you want me to do with you, for you and, so far as I am able, by you. ...

It would be a source of great relief to me to be able to get the valued assisting suggestions or even direction from Marie and Eloise, but the [former] is still sick abed and the latter has gone to Hampton to summer school. But we shall do the best we can by all means. ...

I can’t go back to Atlanta to write you, for I have bid goodbye to all my folks there as a bach and had benedictions said for my bride. You see, I’ve never had one before and I don’t know how to act, so I will henceforth be very docile and take lessons from you, knowing me. First of all, I presume, is the matter of writing and as there is much to be said I’ll write often. ...

Everybody has chided me for not writing often and I have not changed much. That’s one of the reasons why I have repeatedly offered myself to you as I am. You already know me, and I am inclined to be honest, so when I have repeatedly protested my love and offered it – all of it -- I have meant it and still mean it. It may be a poor sort of love not to make a lot of fuss and frills but it is genuine and it will not change, except to grow. ...

Goodbye for today with all my love.
Forever yours,

Monday, July 7, 2008

Spring 1920

March 26, '20

I believe that never before have I so utterly failed in my efforts to make my pen follow my mind as has been the case so repeatedly for weeks and weeks past.

I mean, that I sit (or lie) thinking of you and carrying on an imaginary conversation in which I say what I want and ought to say to you, but you surely could not know much of what I am thinking by what I have written in the past few months. ...

I have been forced to send the camera to you without its case and strap. They have concluded at #97 that you or someone else has done away with it.

Now say; you said much of the details of your contract and so forth at the school, but you finished by not saying if I must send the fifty or not. What do you say? Are you to pay it?

The town has gotten rather dull to me by this time – absolutely nowhere to go and no one to call upon – some place!

... Your birthday greeting was very much appreciated. Leave it to you for the amenities. ...

I miss you so much and there’s nobody to take your place. Good night.

Forever yours,
Mr. H.


"No. 1"
We are ruined, bereft, disconsolate, lonely, deserted -- in the dumps. For our darlings are gone to their new home in "Summerbill" -- went yesterday, so that this joyous Eastertime must be for others who have their loved ones with them -- with one exception -- you. You must be happy. ...

I salute you -- I embrace you for I know I love you. Do you ever wish I were there to share your pleasures? I do.

Do you imagine I could love you any more if I made more effusive show than I have? I don't, for I turn over to you myself without reservation and if you are still of this disposition you will continue to do what you know I like, and imagine me at your side, or looking straight into your eyes whenever you ask yourself "what shall I do now?"

Forever yours,

New York City
April 6, 1920

My dear,
... There was a time when I could rapturously express my thoughts to you, but through your training, I have learned to hold such thoughts in check and simply say, "I thank you." While all the while my heart is bursting within my breast.

Happy? Away from all I love? I am busy, and the time goes quickly and I try to be content. But not happy! Only you can make me so. Only you can create within me the desire to be so.

I haven't dared dwell on the thot of seeing you soon. I say to myself, "I'll see him by Christmas." And so I plan swimming Monday nights. Tennis soon. I haven't even been to a show but once in nearly three months. ...

No one has said aught about the payment of the $50 at the Studio. But they have given diplomas to all students who have been there as long as I have and they have mine ready for me, which I shall get next week. So I suppose they are satisfied. If however they should ask for it I shall let you know immediately.

Am I to be taken into your confidence and be told when you expect to begin your tour and in which direction you will travel?

And will you go to see my mother before you leave and acquaint her of your plans? I think we owe her that. I thank you. Maybe you'll write me again. I dare not hope soon. ...

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.
May 25, '20

My dear Lady,
Your prodigal returns with any amends your Ladyship may demand. I did not need your card to remind me that I had not written you for so long an interval but I was very glad to have it especially because it answered me that you had not irrevocably set yourself at loggerheads. ...

I have not yet gotten myself any equipment even yet, for I did not want to get things of value which I should have to throw away soon. Now we must get something. So I want to ask you what shall it be – in the kitchen?

I know you are angry with me else you would have written a letter long ago so I ask you now to slack up on your wrath and write me a letter setting forth your wishes that I might plan to carry them out.

You have had ample time to decide if you would entrust your heart and body to me. With my numerous shortcomings, my poverty and all else will you still have me? I am still offering all that I have to you – all my love and my poor self just as I am. I cannot promise more than this, so do not think of me in any other light than as you already know me for I am about as plain and ordinary as I claim to be and maybe worse – certainly no better. ...

I have been let off for a week to go to Atlanta if nothing holds me up by Friday, but I am used to disappointments by now. Up to the present you are about the only thing in which I have not been disappointed. Keep the record up – you will do the world a service thereby. ...

The Owls have a Spring dance tonight.

May I hear from you soon? With love,

Forever Yours,

Sunday, July 6, 2008

February 1920 -- "My Dearest Heart"

N.Y. Feb. 28th, 1920

My Dearest Heart,
Moultrie is home now so you’ll have more time to write me. Sounds selfish, eh? Well I am where you’re concerned. He came to see me before leaving, brought me a box of candy and gave me a nice five dollar bill which came in quite handy, I assure you. Thank him please. ...

I have a little more routine work at the studio which I hope to complete by March 15th. ...Kiss Gus & Sylvia Elise for me. Regards to all. Love to you.

Write your own,

Wednesday, Noon
March 2, 1920

My very dear Tedwin,
It seems that besides having contracted a cold, I have a habit – namely, writing you.
... And now dear, let’s discuss a little business.

First I want that camera of mine that is in your studio. There is a case for it at my home. I would like to have that also. How soon may I have them?

Next, we both ... read Mr. Brunel’s pamphlets wrong and according to Mr. Brunel we still owe him $50. In the booklet it reads that he will give the photographic course and the motion picture course for $150. Of course according the contracts I do not owe anything so I have been checking my work according to the routine and have only a few other things to do before finishing. ...

Now here is another proposition. I had a notice from the Census department at Wash. asking if appointed would I accept work there at 95 per [unintelligible], said work to last 6 months or a year. I answered saying yes and that if I were not working and they should send for me it might mean I could perhaps have a chance to spend evenings or some of them at the [Addison] Scurlock studio to advantage. Of course you understand these are only some of my various “castles” and the topic is open for discussion.

You won’t discuss your plans nor ideas with me (if you have any) so of course I am at sea as to what you may be thinking. If however you don’t like my “house of cards” why just blow it over, see?

In the meanwhile it’s your turn next and please building one better than mine or else let mine stand. ...

Kiss Gus and tell her “Tantie” longs for her, for the clasp of her dear little arms about my neck, and the warmth of her little soft body, also to hear her say “Sing I lub 'u tshuly.”

With love one has only for the rest of one
(the rest of you)

Dear Tedwin,
Today finds me no better and compelled to send for a doctor. My cold is worse and am still painful. ...

Please send me some cash as the fee & prescription will just about take my last cent. I regret to be of so much trouble to you but hope some day to be of equal service to you. ...

I have slept quite a lot and dream continually about home so I have all of you with me very often. I dreampt this morning that you kissed me and it was so real that it awoke me. Please do that again.

Shall look to hear from you soon.

With love
Your very own,

Friday, July 4, 2008

January 1920

More than two weeks after she received Uncle Teddy's beautifully tender proposal, Tantie wrote this accusatory note that lacked even a salutation.

18 days since I’ve heard from you
Tuesday morning, Jan 20

My better nature rebels at the thot of reminding you that “it is too long between drinks.”

For the first time since Christmas, I am unable to control my tears and this morning with not even car fare I was not able to hold my smile when I was told “no mail for Miss Forrest.”

... As far as you are concerned, your promises are nil. Nevertheless “I love you just the same.”

Your hungry, neglected “wife to be”

As it turns out, Robbie, Marie and their infant Sylvia had returned to Charleston and were living on the third floor of the Harleston Funeral Home. All three of them had tuberculosis and occupied an apartment across the hall from Teddy and his brother Moultrie.

Teddy and Moultrie shared custody of Robbie and Marie's four-year-old daughter, Gussie, but it was Uncle Teddy who did all the work. Tantie once said his brother Moultrie was the laziest man she had ever known.

Although Tantie was in the habit of writing to Uncle Teddy daily, he was unable to reciprocate because of family illnesses and work responsibilities. He finally responded to her letters one day after her birthday.

Feb. 5, '20

My Sweetie,
You may not have heard from others (and you certainly did not from me) that we have been having more than our hands full here for some time. Your last letters but one had a lot of questions which would have taken a long sitting to answer, and with the awful rush of the past three weeks I have not had that time.

Did you know that Marie, Robbie and the baby have been sick in bed together? That it has been impossible to get anyone to help? That I have had to cook for them and keep house and do my work? That we have been head-over-heels in the undertaking line? Even Bob Randall is down with the flu.

I have had a hard time meeting these various duties, but they are now all recovering – Marie is sitting up in her room; the baby and Robbie have both been out for two days. Yesterday we had four new calls – from ten a.m. to 10 p.m.

You must know how I wanted to write you on your birthday but I could not that week nor the past one. I know you must be glad to hear from home, and you ought to know that I appreciate the fact of your isolation but I don’t think you ought to be well nigh hysterical in your every other letter.

You know I have a few nerves also, and an everyday schedule of from 9 a.m. to 1, 2, 3 a.m. is a little matter to put anyone on edge. Of course since I have not told you, you may not have known, but try to fill in a gap and imagine that it is not all a matter of my worthlessness. ...

Please write me a cheerful letter; send me some pictures and tell me how you are getting along.

When you go to the museum again buy a photo of “Salome” by Regnault (pronounced Rain-yo) for me, if you have the price [of entry].

And don’t reckon the extent of my love by the frequency or length or my letters – my heart is yours and all I have to give but don’t persecute me and stab me by continued peevishness. I love you as you are & won’t you try to do the same for me?

... Goodbye for today. Write again soon. ...

With love – the same as ever and a little bit more.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

About This Project

My great-uncle, Edwin Augustus Harleston (1882-1931), was the most notable African-American portrait painter of his day. His wife, Elise Forrest Harleston (1891-1970), was one of the nation's first black women photographers.

They owned an art and photography studio in their hometown, Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s. To make ends meet, they also worked in the thriving funeral business established by Edwin's father, who had been born a slave.

In addition to being an artist, Edwin Harleston was the founding president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP and was actively involved in the National Negro Business League, the Atlanta University alumni association and other organizations.

In the early 1900s, few black Charlestonians could afford to have their portraits painted, so Teddy Harleston was always on the road either seeking commissions or fulfilling them. Consequently, from 1913 until shortly before his death in 1931, he and Elise wrote hundreds of letters to each other.

Edwin and Elise Harleston had no children of their own, but they reared two nieces. One of them was my mother, Gussie.

I knew Elise as "Tantie" and Edwin as "Uncle Teddy," the nicknames Mama and other family members used. Although Uncle Teddy died long before I was born, I was fortunate to know Tantie in the twilight of her life, after she had been widowed for the second time and was living alone in Los Angeles.

As a child, I lived in her home for nearly a year, but I had no idea she had been a photographer, that she was married to an artist, or that they knew people like scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois, tenor Roland Hayes, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, scientist George Washington Carver, artist Aaron Douglas and many other famous African Americans.

In the decade that I knew her, Tantie never talked about her first husband and their life together, but she kept his letters long after his death. I am publishing them here along with photographs and paintings, diary entries, correspondence from family and friends, and personal commentary. I hope readers will learn something about this couple, my most illustrious ancestors, and about this segment of black American society one generation after slavery.