by Brenda Fredericks
Last October 26th, The Chicago Tribune ran a Page 1 article about our family’s discovery of African American Photographer King Daniel Ganaway who was at the height of his career in the 1920’s and 1930’s. I am an African American woman who is married to one of Ganaway’s great grandsons. There is so much more to this story than our discovery of him.
The visit to his gravesite for the first time last September encouraged me to build upon my husband’s initial discovery of King by learning all that I could about his life. Seeing his grave and touching his headstone gave me a tangible connection to his existence and the realization that it is up to his family to tell his life story; one of inspiration and pride.
He is buried in a single lot amongst strangers in Lincoln Cemetery outside of Chicago, far away from his home town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee where his grandparents, parents and siblings have been laid to rest. His headstone was obviously chosen by the Bible Students he taught as it states, “King Daniel Ganaway, Our Beloved Bible Teacher”. This gifted and famous photographer died as an endeared Bible School Teacher. The explanation for this is found back in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The Ganaways of Murfreesboro were not ordinary citizens. Our King Daniel’s grandfather, Daniel, and great grandmother Patsy, were listed as personal property in the 1853 estate inventory of slave owner Burrel Gannaway.
Seven years after he was freed from slavery, Daniel purchased one of the earliest merchant bonds from the city of Murfreesboro to start the family grocery business which was passed down to his son King who is our King Daniel’s father. The business grew and another store was opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
King Daniel, named after his father and grandfather helped his father at this grocery store every day after school. His father’s main competitor was the White owner of Mandre & Burke which was located directly across the street. One evening while locking up the store, the owner offered King a job. His parents decided that King would take that job. It allowed him to put his older sister through Fisk University while he himself went through Howard High School. That sister that he put through Fisk University ultimately became the Dean of West Kentucky Industrial College.
While still working as a delivery driver in 1903 for Mandre & Burke, King Daniel met a nearby Matron of an Orphanage by the name of Almira S. Steele who owned The Steele Home for Needy Children. She was a White widow from the East Coast who came down to the South, using her own funds to open an orphanage for African American children. This woman travelled to the Michigan area annually to visit her doctor. She belonged to the Congregationalist Church whose former member, John Alexander Dowie would become famous when he established his own religious community just north of Chicago. Mrs. Steele was known for assisting young African Americans in achieving their dreams in life. She obviously knew of King Daniel’s religious zeal and directed him to Zion City, Illinois which at the time, was under the direction of Dowie.
King left Tennessee and was baptized in Dowie’s church in the summer of 1903. After 9 months of waiting tables in Zion, he moved on to Chicago to look for work because he felt he was strong enough morally to risk his convictions in the world. One day while standing on a train station platform a rich widow, Mrs. Edward F. Lawrence walked up to him and asked for directions. She had spotted him and cunningly interviewed him on the spot, hiring him to be her Butler.
It was in this environment, working for white society again, that King found an opportunity to improve himself. He was allowed to borrow books from her personal library. He learned social etiquette and met prominent citizens of Chicago. “No one can begin to realize the education that a man in my position can get, provided he has an open mind.” King explained in a 1925 interview with writer Edith M. Lloyd. “I learned things about life, about manners, about all the thousand and one refinements that go to make a gentlemen; things that I never could have learned in a hundred years in any other occupation.”
Although he found his job as a Butler exceedingly rewarding, he used his one day off every two weeks, to build a career for himself as a commercial photographer.
In the summer of 1919, Chicago faced a deadly riot when African Americans crossed an invisible line on a beach. By this time King was married to a Swedish immigrant and raising a biracial child.
It was in the next year, October 1920 when a photo of a White baby appeared on the cover of Camera Magazine. The title of this photo was “Here I Am.” At first glance, it appears the title captured the baby’s proud stance however, the photographer’s credit gave another clue to the real meaning of this photo; a political message. The photographer K.D. Ganaway, was none other than our King Daniel Ganaway and there “he” was, a Black man on a beach taking a picture of a white baby. That photo won first place prize of $100.
As family members, we believe that the social unrest was a tremendous strain on King’s interracial marriage. In 1921 he became famous when he won the John Wanamaker prize for his photo, The Spirit of Transportation. The fame may have also brought unwanted attention to a Swedish wife and biracial daughter. By 1922, King and his wife Pauline had separate addresses listed in Chicago City directories.
King Daniel became K.D. Ganaway. On page 295 of the September 1928 issue of National Geographic Magazine, you will find Ganaway’s photo of Michigan Street with the Art Institute in the background. Because of The Harmon Foundation, he was the first African American Photographer to exhibit in museums around the country; for example The First Black American Art Exhibit in Los Angeles in 1929 and the Negro in Art Week at the Art Institute in Chicago in 1927.
Ganaway’s celebrated career seemed to come to a close abruptly for no apparent reason. Looking at his handwriting during his time with The Harmon Foundation and comparing it to his handwriting a couple of years before his death, there is evidence of some kind of illness. He was a very articulate man with beautiful handwriting as evidenced from handwritten letters back in the 1930’s. Two years before his death, on his 1942 draft card, he could not spell the word photographer and the writing appeared to be of someone suffering some kind of impairment.
Those who knew him as a member of Greater Bethel AME Church remembered him as a hardworking man in the community who had a close connection to the Overton Family. He had a staff position at the church and was listed as a resident and one of the victims who lost personal property in a 1924 fire that destroyed Bethel AME.
All that King Daniel Ganaway created was thought to have disappeared. That is simply not true. We know his photos hang on the walls of collectors but beyond the art, he left behind something much more valuable: his daughter Lucille who was living across town, attempting to pass for White when he died in 1944.
Lucille eventually had 8 children and those children had children whom no one in the family knew would one day look back and find their great ancestor. Some of these descendants are photographers and artists, bearing the same natural artistic gift as King Daniel.
Today they claim their heritage that was kept from them and with each piece of information we gather about King Ganaway, we step into the world he left behind for us!