The Remarkable Reverend L.O. Taylor: Memphis' Renaissance Man

The films, recordings, and photographs that the Reverend Lonzie Odie (L. O.) Taylor made of African Americans in Memphis during the 1930s and 1940s constitute one of the unique documentary records in America. A charismatic and emotional Baptist preacher, Taylor consciously set out to record in movies, photographs, and audio tapes the lives, events, and sounds of the Bluff City’s African American communities in an era of Jim Crow segregation.

As shown in the award-winning 1989 documentary, Sermons and Sacred Pictures: The Life and Work of Reverend L. O. Taylor, the films were about important African American religious and political events. For example, Taylor made movies of his annual trips to the National Baptist Convention, showing his parishioners famous landmarks of the cities he visited, as well as parts of the convention and the legendary ministers who spoke there.

 His films from the conventions also demonstrated the inherent inequity of Jim Crow laws as Taylor was forced to travel on segregated trains. In Memphis, Taylor filmed weddings, community celebrations, and perhaps most importantly, commonplace events and average people carrying out their everyday lives. Among the many subjects he documented were baptisms, parades, and African American women learning to type while accompanied by a pianist.


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