Hatteberg's People - Rosie Hughes

By: Larry Hatteberg Email
By: Larry Hatteberg Email

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

History is recorded sometimes by accident. Rosie Hughes and her husband Leon, worked for decades taking pictures in the black community.

For them, at the time, it wasn't anything special. But as 'time' looks back, the pictures and Rosie's personal experiences, and the lives they chronicled, become a window to history.

Rosie Hughes is part of history. With her husband Leon teaching her, they were a photographic team documenting Wichita's African-American community from the 40's through the 70's. Their pictures of everyday life are now a priceless part of local African-American heritage.

"I never thought they would amount to anything."

But it has. Now, Leon had always wanted to be a photographer.

"His first little camera was out of a Cracker Jack box."

That first cracker jack camera was just the beginning. When they married, Leon taught Rosie the art of photography and she loved it.

"It was a just a job, a hobby you know that we did. But now it has turned around and people are becoming concerned about what went on in those years."

Those early years were ignored by white media. These pictures of everyday life wouldn't exist without the Hughes -- pictures of a generation past for a generations future.

"God knows what he is doing, and he made all of us. God wants us to love everybody."

They both worked in the aircraft plants, but after hours pictures were their passion. As the civil rights movement took hold in the '50's, Rosie was part of it. She and others staged the sit-in at Wichita's Dockum Drug store downtown.

"The manager never came out and said nothing to us. He never did. But he told his waitress...don't serve them."

For Wichita, it was a turning point in desegregation. But all through her life, She says she'll never forget the moments of hate and prejudice she endured.

"They would have us come in and take care of their children, cook their meals, and I could never understand why all this hate was there."

On a full Wichita bus, Rose was seated as a white woman waited to be seated. The woman looked at Rosie then called her a racial epitaph. But the bus driver surprised Rosie by telling the woman to sit where there were seats available, or leave the bus.

Her laugh today makes the pain of segregation and inequality of years gone by.

"I know a lot of things happened, but I'm a person that don't hold grudges."

Today, the memory remains, and so do the pictures. It is these pictures from Rosie and Leon that have become a priceless collection of Wichita memories. People gone, moments tendered, events lost to time --- in black and white.

"I hope I've been a blessing to someone."

Rosie's husband, Leon, died in the 1970's. Next month 89 year-old Rosie Hughes will be honored by the African American Museum as a 'Trailblazer' for her work both in Civil Rights and has one who chronicled through photography the life of everyday people. The Museum will be honoring Rosie Hughes and others, November 20th at the Hyatt.

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