Texas Highways, Volume 46, Number 2, February 1999 Page: 20
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Photographer R.C. Hickman documented black Dallas during a transitional
period in the city's social history
By Don E. Carleton
First met R.C. Hickman on a late summer day in 1984. In my capacity as
director of the Center for American History at The University of Texas at
Austin, I was eager to find and preserve photographs documenting the
African-American historical experience, especially in Texas. The center
has a major photographic collection, which makes available for research the visu-
al evidence of events, places, and people that have
helped to shape and define the American experience. I
had traveled to Mr. Hickman's home in the South Oak
Cliff section of Dallas hoping that he had saved some
of his work and that we might be able to make it avail-
able for research and teaching.
I was not disappointed by Mr. Hickman or his pho-
tographs, the negatives of which he had carefully filed
in labeled envelopes and stored in several small boxes.
I spent much of that first day fascinated by the hun-
dreds of images documenting events large and small, happy and tragic, public and
private, that marked the lives of ordinary people as they worked and played and
yearned for their own fair share of the American dream. I was equally impressed
by Mr. Hickman, whose generous spirit, good humor, and strength of character
were immediately apparent.
R C Hickman began his career as a photojour-
. . nalist and portrait photographer in Dallas in
the Forties-at a time when white-owned newspapers
rarely acknowledged in print the activities of African
Americans, except as they related to crime or poverty.
As a result, African Americans depended on black-owned newspapers for infor-
mation about life in their communities and for photographic evidence of their
accomplishments and struggles. Focusing his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera on a
wide range of subjects during a career that stretched into the mid-1960s, R.C.
Hickman worked hard to meet his community's demand for visual documenta-
tion. In providing this service and by carefully preserving his work, Hickman also
created an invaluable historical record of an important segment of Texas society
during a time of fundamental transformation.
Born in Mineola in 1922, Hickman moved with his family to Dallas in the early
1930s. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1937, R.C. (Rufus
Cornelius) completed two years of study at Tillotson College in Austin. The U.S. dec-
laration of war on Japan, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941,
interrupted his studies. In early 1942, he was drafted into the Army and served most
of his time in the Pacific.
While stationed in Saipan in the Mariana Islands, Hickman discovered photography
when he watched a fellow soldier develop pictures of military combat. Hickman
learned all he could from his colleague and devoted himself to taking photographs and
developing them in his spare time. He learned rapidly, and soon became an official mil-
d 1 - a
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Texas. Department of Transportation. Texas Highways, Volume 46, Number 2, February 1999, periodical, February 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth654355/m1/22/: accessed November 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.