African American men, women and children pick cotton in field.

African American men, women and children pick cotton in field. Call Number: PI/COL/1982.0058 (MDAH Collection)

The department’s collection of J. C. Coovert photographs is now available on Flickr.

Photographer J. C. (John Calvin) Coovert was born in Danville, Kentucky, in 1862 and arrived in Greenville, Mississippi, around 1887. His studio, Patorno and Coovert, won a gold medal from the Paris Exposition in 1889 for “best state views.” He went into business for himself around 1891, operating as Coovert’s Photograph Gallery in Greenville, Memphis, Vicksburg, and Yazoo City, among other locations. He eventually settled in downtown Memphis, where he worked until his death, at age 75, on August 18, 1937.

Coovert is best known for his photographs of the cotton culture and the Mississippi River. However, Coovert’s documentary photography covered a wide range of work activities and social conditions, including the programs of the Memphis Health, Police, and Public Works Departments.

This collection consists first of eight (8) black and white photographs (call number PI/1990.0017), most of which are captioned, taken in the 1890s in Greenville and Vicksburg. Scenes include flood waters, refugees fleeing the same, levees, cotton pickers at work, the Delta Guards, and the Greenville Fire Department. The photographs were a gift to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History from the Vigo County Historical Society in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1990.

Awaiting the relief boat on the Miss. River April 2nd, 1897.

Awaiting the relief boat on the Miss. River April 2nd, 1897. Call Number: PI/1990.0017 (MDAH)

The collection also includes 38 contact prints of John Coovert’s photos (call number PI/COL/1982.0058). The originals of these prints are available at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center in Memphis, Tennessee. The prints depict the cotton trade as well – picking and tallying in the field, along with shipping and loading on the river steamboats.