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Tue, 11.22.1927

Theodore Gaffney, Photographer born

Theodore Gaffney

*Theodore Gaffney was born on this date in 1927.  He was a Black photographer and journalist.  

From Washington, D.C., his great-grandparents were enslaved on a plantation in South Carolina and were sharecroppers after the American Civil War.  In the 1920s, Gaffney's parents migrated from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., for better opportunities.  In 1945, Gaffney enlisted in the Army.  

He served in the US Army during World War II. One of the first Black photographers in the White House, he took photos of American Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Queen Elizabeth II.  His experiences with segregation during his service were part of why he felt compelled to document the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  

In the spring of 1961, working for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, Gaffney accompanied journalist Simeon Booker on one of the first Freedom Rides, in which black and white civil rights activists boarded buses to the Deep South to protest segregated buses and stations near Anniston, Alabama.  "My job on the Freedom Ride was to document what happened when blacks and whites sit together on the bus in the front, go to the counters in the bus terminals, drink out of the black or white fountain, go to the ... 'colored' restrooms and water fountains and see what happened when they used those facilities," Gaffney said in an interview for the Freedom Riders Interview Collection.  

On May 20, 1961, the Freedom Riders were attacked, and his camera work documented some important evidence of segregated violence in 20th-century America.  In the 1980s, a research project on the African diaspora took him to Brazil, where he met the woman he would marry, Santos-Gaffney.  On April 12, 2020, his family confirmed that Theodore Gaffney died of complications from Covid-19.  Gaffney is survived by Santos-Gaffney and their two sons, Theodore and Walter.  

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