Photographer gets his time in the spotlight

Jet, Ebony stringer honored by museum

September 17, 2005|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Photographer Monroe S. Frederick unfolds the dashiki he wore while on a Jet magazine assignment in Mississippi 35 years ago.

"There's the bullet hole," he says. It's in the right sleeve. Somebody took a potshot at him when he was covering a garbage workers union strike in Jackson, Miss.

"I don't know who it was," Frederick says. "Every time I went to Mississippi somebody pulled a gun. That was the quickest place to get hurt."

A Baltimore native who grew up on Druid Hill Avenue in the same house he lives in now, Frederick was a photographic stringer for Jet and Ebony magazines for 25 years. He covered everything from Black Panther militants to Duke Ellington's funeral.

He's being honored tomorrow as a Black Living Legend by Juneteenth Museum, a museum without walls with Morning Sunday as its director. She says Frederick is being celebrated as an "unsung" hero who has made major contributions to the African-American community.

"He took pictures for Jet magazine for many years, so he's an excellent photographer," says Tom Saunders, president of Renaissance Productions and Tours, which focuses on African-American history in Baltimore. Saunders will be a special guest Sunday at the tribute in the Glass Pavilion at the Johns Hopkins University.

"He's donated a lot of his time as a photographer for several of the events I've worked on as an employee of the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission," Saunders says. "He just seems to be a consistent person in terms of African-American culture and supporting positive issues. He witnessed a lot of the history first hand."

Frederick says his photographs appeared on about 25 Jet covers. "Mr. Johnson used to treat me like his son," he says. John Johnson, the publisher of Jet and Ebony, died last month. "His advice to me all the time was don't get even, get smart."

Frederick made his first photographs with a Kodak Hawkeye camera when he was about 10 years old, at Druid Hill Avenue and Presstman Street. He graduated from Douglass High School in 1953 with honors. He'd worked for the school newspaper and shot pictures for the sports page.

He settled in New York after a stint in the Army in the late 1950s. He enrolled in the highly regarded Germaine School of Photography in Manhattan and he worked nights at the U.S. post office, where he stayed 34 years. During the day, he hung out with Moneta Sleet Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and G. Marshall Wilson, an Ebony staff photographer.

He began to help out on shoots. He covered crowds at a major funerals, including Ellington's and Martin Luther King Jr.'s. "I got to do the personal photography for Aretha Franklin, Lena Horn, James Brown, Lionel Hampton and Dick Gregory," he says. The mainstream media neglected coverage of African-American performers through the 1960s, he says. "I covered all the black entertainers at that time."

He shot Eubie Blake's 99th birthday party at Sardi's Restaurant in New York in February 1982. The ragtime piano player from Baltimore died the next year, five days after his 100th birthday. Frederick caught Willie Mays with tears streaming down his face in 1979 when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Yeah," he says. "Mays always cried."

Frederick shot a lot of the civil rights movement in the South and across the country.

He covered the return of Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party information minister, from exile in Algeria, Cuba and France. He got his picture despite FBI interference. It ran full-page in Ebony.

He returned to Baltimore about six years ago. He's concentrating on making picture postcards focusing on black history. He's done 31 in Baltimore and Maryland. Now he plans on covering the whole East Coast from Maine to Florida. He is, after all, only 70.

One thing he won't do is weddings.

"I did an entertainer once," he says. "She'd been living with this guy nine years. I did the wedding. By the time I got the pictures to her two months later, they had separated. I ain't got my money yet!"


What: 2005-2006 Black Living Legends award honors photojournalist Monroe S. Frederick

When: Sunday

Where: The Johns Hopkins University, Glass Pavilion

Time: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Cost: $25

Call: 410-243-8882

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