Roland Freeman, recommended as the Bess Lomax Hawes Award recipient, was inspired by the socially conscious Depression-era photography of Gordon Parks and Roy DeCarava as well as the Farm Security Administration photographers. At age 14, he met the author/folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, who also greatly influenced his life's work. A native of Baltimore, he began photographing in the DC area in the late 1960s. In 1968, he participated in and documented the Poor People's Campaign and the Mule Train trip from Marks, MS, to the nation's capital. Even while working as a stringer for Time and Magnum Photos, including coverage as a White House photographer, his real passion throughout his career has been the documentation of Southern folk culture.
In the early 1970s, Freeman co-directed the Mississippi Folklife Project for the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. That work resulted in the exhibition Mississippi Tradition and Change. Continuously since then, Freeman has been a research associate/field research photographer with the Center. His interest in craft traditions led to his documentation and collection of quilts made by African Americans long before others were taking an interest in this distinct but little-recognized artistic tradition. This work resulted in the publication of two books Something to Keep You Warm and A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories.
In 1990, Freeman consolidated two decades of documentation of the disappearing tradition of Baltimore street vendors, many of whom still used horse-drawn carts, for a major exhibition titled "Arabbers of Baltimore" at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the publication of a similarly titled book. Freeman consistently works in collaboration with others: for more than 30 years, folklorist Worth Long and cultural historian Bernice Johnson Reagon have been invaluable guides and partners, and he has worked closely with folklorists Glenn Hinson, Charles Camp, and Jerrilyn McGregory. Over the years, Freeman's major projects have led to four national and international touring exhibits and the publication of six widely acclaimed books.
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