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Walter N. Boags papers

Identifier: AMN 1053

Collection Overview

The collection consists mostly of black-and-white and color negatives (with some prints and proofs) of portraits and other subjects taken by Boags from 1945 through the 1980s. Most images were originally housed in brown paper bags that contained varying amounts of information about the person who ordered the photos. Thus information for many images may not be the name of the subject but the name of the customer paying for the image. All these original labeled materials have been preserved and are housed with the associated negatives or positives. The collection is divided into several series.

Studio portraits are arranged alphabetically within the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Cap-and-gown portraits of high school graduates are also arranged alphabetically within the same decades. Weddings, listed alphabetical by the groom's last name, are arranged within the spans 1950-1969, the 1970s, and the 1980s. Mourning and memorial images of the deceased and images of schools, groups, businesses and commercial sites are listed in a name index available in the repository.

Schools include Avery Normal School, Bonds-Wilson High School, Buist, Burke High School, Calvary School, Jenkins Orphanage, Greshem-Meggett School, Immaculate Conception School, Kings Highway Elementary School, Laing School, Mary Ford School, Liberty Hill Elementary School, Simonton School, Sol Legare, and others.

Sites and groups photographed include The Blue and White Store, the Breech Tea Room, Central Baptist Church, Ebenezer AME Church, Ebony Beauty School, the Hotel James, Larimer School, the Lincoln Theater, the Marion Grill, Morris Brown AME Church, Mt. Zion Church, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, Purvis Drugs, Safety Cab Company, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Taylor's Bakery, and Your Flower Shop.

Groups photographed include sororities such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Businesses and professional associations include the Bakers Union, Charleston Funeral Directors, Palmetto Beauty School, and South Carolina Funeral Directors; civic organizations such as the American Legion, Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Civil servants like members of the Charleston Fire Department, Charleston Police Department, and Practical Nurses, are represented. Music and dance groups (some religiously oriented) include the Fordham Gospel Singers, Gospel Singers, Highlettics, Louis Gaillard and His Royal Sultans, Metronome All Stars, the Modernettes, Rama Gama dancers, Sons of Grace, Southernaires, Starlight Singers, Voices of Praise. Church-related and religious groups are represented, including Charity Baptist Day Care, Deacon Baptist, Gethsemane Baptist, Plymouth Congregational Church, Hebron United Presbyterian, Greater Refuge of Christ Apostolic Guild, Greater St. Luke's AME Church, chapters 215 and 360 of the Order of the Eastern Star, Shiloh Church, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, St. Peter's AME Church, and Zion Olivet Church. Women's clubs include the Entre Nous Bridge Club, Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, and the Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club. Other community groups include the Bears Athletic Club, Reid Home Center, and Shaw Community Center.

This series includes negatives and prints produced by the Boags Modern Arts Photography Studio based on 19th and 20th century images brought in by clients to be copied. Includes one image by African American photographer Charles Macbeth.

Business-related material includes legal work consisting of photographs from traffic accidents and injuries. It also includes forms, cancelled checks, and some promotional materials.

Personal material includes some data on the Hamilton family, Buist School certificates, materials on the Westchester Neighborhood Association, Boags' class notes from the Renouard School of Embalmers, and material on the Scipio Williams, Jr. American Legion Auxiliary.


  • Creation: 1945-1980s


Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the Avery Research Center's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Avery Research Center claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical Note

A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Walter N. Boags (1917-1997) graduated from Avery High School and Fisk University, served as military pilot, and studied mortuary science.

Boags left Charleston to attend photography school and returned in 1949, after which he opened a photography studio, Boags Modern Arts, at 32 Spring Street. Boags Modern Arts Photography was one of the few African American photography studios in the city. After about 30 years, Boags closed his studio, but continued to operate as a freelance photographer.

Walter Boags' work spanned nearly 40 years and consisted mainly of studio portraits, weddings, and high school graduation photos. He also photographed some commercial and business sites, fraternities, social groups, and public events, as well as mourning and memorial images of the deceased.


27.5 linear feet (30 archival boxes, 9 record cartons)

Language of Materials



From 1949 to the late 1970s, Walter N. Boags (1917-1997) owned and operated Boags Modern Arts Photography Studio, one of the few African-American photography studios in Charleston, South Carolina. During the 1980s, Boags continued to operate as a freelance photographer.

The collection consists mostly of black-and-white and color negatives, with some prints and proofs, taken by Walter Boags from 1945 through the 1980s. Boags' work focused on African-Americans, African-American groups, and architecture related to African-American education, worship, and business in the Charleston area. Studio portraits include portraits of individuals, school photographs, graduation cap-and-gown portraits. On-site and studio work features commercial and business sites, schools and churches, sororities and fraternities, civic organizations, music and dance groups, women's groups and social organizations. Event photography includes weddings as well as mourning and memorial images of the deceased. Copy work done by Boags includes negatives and prints produced of 19th and 20th century images, including one image by African-American photographer Charles Macbeth. Business-related material includes legal work consisting of photographs from traffic accidents and injuries. Personal material includes data on the Hamilton family, school certificates, Boags' notes from mortuary science classes, and other materials.

Collection Arrangement

1. Portraits of Individuals, 1950s-1980s

2. School Photographs, 1947-1980s

3. Events and Sites: Weddings, Funerals, and Gatherings, 1949-1980s

4. Copy and Legal Work, 1960-1984

5. Business-Related Material, 1950s-1980s

6. Personal Material, 1945-1980s

Processing Information

Processed by Celeste Wiley and Harlan Greene, 2009

Encoded by Melissa Bronheim, March 2010

Edited by Amanda Ross, April 2010 and February 2011

Funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources supported the collection processing and encoding of this finding aid.

Inventory of the Walter N. Boags Papers, 1945 - 1980s AMN 1053
Finding aid prepared by Processed by: Celeste Wiley and Harlan Greene; machine-readable finding aid created by: Melissa Bronheim
Description rules
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Description is in English
Funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources supported the collection processing and encoding of this finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Repository

125 Bull Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424 United States