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Photographing Freetowns


Helen Balfour Morrison

The original exhibit is available in its entirety in digital form courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago, and The Morrison-Shearer Foundation, Northbrook, Illinois:

Photographing Freetowns: African American Kentucky Through the Lens of Helen Balfour Morrison, 1935-1946


Helen Balfour Morrison (1900-1984), a white photographer from Chicago’s North Shore, traveled at least three times over a decade to Kentucky’s Inner Bluegrass region to photograph African Americans of the rural freetowns or hamlets surrounding Lexington. In her almost 500 photographs, she created a compelling record of the daily lives of the men, women, and children of Zion Hill, Sugar Hill, and other Kentucky locations. Her images show people at home, in town, and at work - often in the kitchens, stables, and pastures of the region’s large thoroughbred horse farms. The pictures reveal the dignity, independence, and strength of these close-knit descendants of the ex-slaves who established communities there after the Civil War.