The Rolland J. Curtis Photo Archive at the Los Angeles Public Library Central Branch


July 2015

All-American Indian Week 1968

Beginning Count: 3,239

Today: 269

Total 3,508 photos and negatives processed since July 7th, 2015.

Today, I researched a set of photos labeled as “All-American Indian Week – Wrigley Field.”


This is one of the pictures in the set with no information. I think it “stands” well on its own, no explanation required.

All-American Indian Week was a 3 day event running from November 22nd – 24th, 1968 at Wrigley Field.The event featured arts and crafts, exhibitions, and demonstrations with proceeds going to Native American social and educational programs. The week was kicked off by a presentation of the resolution declaring it All-American Indian Week to Chief George Pierre by the LA City Council at City Hall.


This is Chief Pierre on the far left, next to Councilman Gilbert Lindsay in the front row, and Billy Mills on the microphone. Chief Pierre was a member of the Colville Indian Reservation and Chief of the Coville Confederated Tribes of Washington.

What I found most interesting in the photo is the presence of the man to the right of Billy Mills. The man is a famous actor named “Iron Eyes” Cody, who appeared in films and TV shows, but was most famous of his “Crying Indian” commercial during the early 1970s, wherein he portrays an American Indian shedding a tear over the littering of trash on land and rivers.

Iron Eyes Cody was actually of Italian descent. His real name was Espera Oscar de Cort. I found it interesting that an actor, who was known for portraying a Native American on screen, but was actually Italian in real life, would participate as an American Indian in the festivities and at City Hall.


I discovered that Iron Eyes Cody had actually adopted the Native American heritage as his own, marrying a Native American woman, adopting 2 Native American children, and even championing and becoming a spokesperson for Native American causes. His impact was such that the Hollywood Native American community acknowledged his contributions through his portrayals and his support of important causes, explaining that though he was not a Native American by birth, his deeds more than spoke to his devotion to the community.

Just one more pic of the lasso cowboy with his dogs before I go…


The project so far:

Beginning Count: 2,653

Today: 302

Total: 2,955 photographs and negatives processed since July 7th, 2015.

Today I finished up the 2nd box of photographs in the collection and began the 3rd. I’m averaging about 200-300 photographs and negatives a day. When I began working on this collection over a year ago, I spent 3 weeks processing the first of 7 boxes of photos. When I started again on July 7th, I’ve managed to finish a box in less than 3 weeks, so processing is slowly picking up speed.

Here are some of the photos I’ve worked on so far:


One of the first photos I worked on was this set. One of the challenges with this photo archive is that there is very little background information about why some photos were taken. In this case, it’s quite obvious that Ali was already quite famous at the time the picture was taken, but where this was taken and why he was there is still unknown. I assume that the picture was taken at City Hall. Billy Mills actually performed the ceremony for Ali’s third marriage to Veronica Porsche in 1977, so it’s possible that they knew each other at the time the picture was taken, which is why Ali may have visited City Hall. I haven’t had a chance to research as to whether or not this was the case. In this picture, he is shaking hands with Assemblyman Leon Ralph.


This is one of my favorite pictures that just recently got digitized. The entire archive is still in the process of being digitized, only a few hundred or so are. But this is another one of the early ones that I processed last year. Another challenge is that a large percentage of the photographs are only present in negatives. It can be difficult to tell whether photos actually belong together in groups just by looking their negatives. This is further complicated by Curtis’ use of both black and white and color film for the same events. I’ve spent entire days hunched over a light box with a loupe trying to make sense of piles of photos to see if they were taken at the same event. This particular set of photos were only negatives when I processed them, so seeing them digitized in full color is fantastic. I particularly love Louis Armstrong’s smile in this picture, which is the same smile present on all of his pictures in this group.




Rolland J. Curtis was the Field Deputy to Councilman Billy G. Mills and Tom Bradley, two of the group of three African-American men first to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council during the 1960s. Curtis’ position as part of the councilmen’s staff, in addition to his prolific photography, created the Photo Archive that I am currently in the process of arranging and describing at the Los Angeles Public Library Central Branch Photo Collection Department.

The Rolland J. Curtis Photo Archive is comprised of 20,000 photographs that document African-American life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 70s. While a majority of the photographs were taken over the course of Curtis’ execution of his duties as Field Deputy, there are also a great deal of photographs of life outside the walls of City Hall.

The Project:

My job as the archivist for this collection is to recreate the original groupings of the photographs. Along the way, I am numbering and describing the photographs and rehousing them in acid-free envelopes. This blog is devoted to documenting the process, while showcasing notable photographs and discoveries along the way.

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