A True Likeness showcases the extraordinary photography of Richard Samuel Roberts (1880–1935), who operated a studio in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1920 to 1935. He was one of the few major African American commercial photographers working in the region during the first half of the twentieth century, and his images reveal the social, economic, and cultural realities of the black South and document the rise of a small but significant southern black middle class.
The nearly two hundred photographs in A True Likeness were selected from three thousand glass plates that had been stored for decades in a crawl space under the Roberts home. The collection includes “true likenesses” of teachers, preachers, undertakers, carpenters, brick masons, dressmakers, chauffeurs, entertainers, and athletes, as well as the poor, with dignity and respect and an eye for character and beauty.
Thomas L. Johnson and Phillip C. Dunn received a 1987 Lillian Smith Book Award for their work on this book. This new edition of A True Likeness features a new foreword by Elaine Nichols, the supervisory curator of culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. A new afterword is provided by Thomas L. Johnson.