African-Americans on the Great Plains

Eléctrica in the Desert

Snapshot of an American experience: Lincoln, Nebraska

SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE
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Douglas Keister has spent the past four decades traveling the country to photograph subjects as varied as architecture, folk art and cemeteries. Over the years, as he moved from his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, to several different cities in California, he carted around a heavy box of 280 antique glass-plate negatives that he’d bought when he was 17 from a friend who’d found them at a garage sale. “I thought, ‘Why the heck am I keeping these things?’” he says.

Then, in 1999, Keister’s mother sent him an article she’d seen in the Lincoln Journal Star about historians in Lincoln who had unearthed a few dozen glass negatives featuring portraits of the city’s small African-American population from the 1910s and ’20s, an era from which few other photos survived. Keister compared the images with his negatives, and “I just…

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