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


August 2015

The nature of the collection and the Kennedys

Beginning count: 4359

Today: 208

Total: 4567

One of the most influential foundations of archival practice that I learned early on in my education is the idea of “original order.” Original order is based on the idea that throughout the course of a person’s daily life, their records (and in this case, photographs), acquire an organization, or “order” from which researchers, historians and archivists can derive meaning and insight. For example, when looking at a pile of papers on a desk, the most recent, used or important tend to be at the top of the pile because they are used regularly, referred to often, or recently written. While there are many other nuances to the idea of original order, and how it should be interpreted, this is a simple example what it may mean for a specific instance.

Now granted, this concept has been interpreted many different ways, and is undergoing an evolution, even as we speak, in the archival world. Original order, though the ideal, is not realistic in a world where archives are donated and handled by different parties, aside from the creator, often after the creators death, and can sometimes change hands from one repository or archive to another. Original order is easily lost throughout the processing of the archives. And this is not to mention the idea that each creator of an archive may have different habits and practices when they create and use their records. Can we derive the same meaning from a pile of paper, regardless if the person is neat or messy, left handed or right handed, and so forth?

The reason I’m writing about original order today is because the original order of the Rolland J. Curtis collection has been lost. Through the changing of hands and storage, the photographs which I assume were originally arranged by the event Curtis was shooting, has been completely reorganized. The result is an alphabetical arrangement of the photos by the people in the photo.

While this is great for identification purposes, from an archival standpoint, this becomes problematic, for several reasons. First, if there were multiple people in the photos, photos taken at a party for instance, the entire event was split up and dispersed among the photograph’s subjects. If there were 5 people in the picture, the photographs were distributed into 5 separate piles, and then each pile was filed by one of the people’s names. There is no record of how the photographs were split up, so it’s very difficult to determine what the “original order” was for the photographs. To complicate matters, the photographs of people, regardless of the event, were all combined together and filed under the person’s name. Basically, every single photograph of the person in the entire collection, comprising what we estimate is 14-20,000 photos and negatives, was separated from the groups of events, and combined together with photographs of the person from other events, and filed under the person’s name.

The result is what I like to call “the most epic game of memory.” While I am processing the photos, I try to remember specific details about the photos, like clothing, furniture, wallpaper, setting, and people. The goal is to match up photographs that were taken at the same event, in an effort to recreate the original arrangement and grouping of the photos. While I understand that I may not ever be able to recreate the original order perfectly, at least making an attempt will help the context of the photos and our ability to understand them.

After successfully grouping the photographs together by the event, the next challenge is to figure out the event that the photograph captures. This is an equally challenging task because Curtis doesn’t appear to have written records of the events in the photographs, so we rely on research and information written on the photos by the first person who processed the collection. I’ve also been searching through the Los Angeles newspaper archives, specifically the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Sentinel.


These photos of Ted Kennedy provide great clues as to the event. Kennedy is at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. He is speaking behind a picture of Lyndon B Johnson, possibly because he is campaigning for him. To his right is a picture of John F. Kennedy, which may place the date of the picture after his assassination in 1963.


In the case of the photographs of Robert Kennedy, the LAPL’s online photo collection was quite helpful. The photograph below was one of the photographs Curtis took during Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Los Angeles. This photograph would be a challenge to identify on its own. Though I can identify many people in the photos, the location, date, and time of the photo is not discernible. However, a search through the LAPL’s photo collection yielded a similar photo taken by a newspaper, complete with date, time, and information on the event. This particular photo was taken on the way to Kennedy’s speech at the Watts Writers Workshop, which was established after the 1965 Watts riot.



The same was the case for this photo, which was taken in a school during what appears to be a press conference. We don’t know what the name of the school is, or why Kennedy was speaking there, but we can identify Councilman Billy Mills next to him. The LAPL photo collection had a photo from a newspaper at the same time with information chronicling the date, time, and the reason why. Kennedy was speaking at Markham Junior High School in South Los Angeles in 1964 during a tour of the city, years before he began campaigning for president.

While the photographs were separated by years, they were contained within the same envelope and filed under Robert Kennedy, which implied that they were taken around the same time and the same place. I’ve separated these photographs by the each event, providing context to the photographs once again.

Marguerite Justice, the first female African American Police Commissioner of Los Angeles

Beginning count: 3,765

Today: 210

Total: 3,975 since July 7th, 2015


Let me preface this blog post by saying that there was a female Police Commissioner for the city of Los Angeles before Marguerite Justice. The first female to sit on the Los Angeles board of Police Commissioners was Agnes Albro, who took the seat in 1946. Justice took her seat at the commission in 1971, a seat that Mayor Sam Yorty appointed her to. At the time, Yorty was quite proud of her appointment, stating that with her as the fifth member, the Police Commission would “retain its status of having at least three of its five members from ethnic groups.”

Justice’s appointment to the commission, and her lack of experience, drew a few eyebrows, including that of Bill Lane, the Los Angeles Sentinel’s Theatrical Editor, who wrote: “Marguerite Justice, now an L.A. police commissioner, might not have had prior training in police ways and means before taking her new job, but she surely must know all about being a secretary. For nine years, she was Linda Darnell’s secretary.”

Justice did in fact work for actress Linda Darnell for several years, crediting Darnell with shattering Hollywood stereotypes and racial prejudice by hiring a black private secretary. Working for Darnell afforded Justice the ability to travel around the world, a practice that she gave up when she married William H. Justice (and acquired the AMAZING last name) in 1954. Marrying William allowed Marguerite to pursue her passion for community work.


It was her community work that ultimately caught Yorty’s attention. Marguerite was already part of the Hoover Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, the Southwest Division Police Department Advisory Committee, the Manual Arts High School Advisory Committee, the District Attorney’s Youth Council, and the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church Youth Division, in addition to the Community Redevelopment Agency board, where she worked closely with Councilman Billy Mills.

Throughout her career, Justice was known for her sensitivity to police oversight and minority communities. Ron Brown, a retired LAPD lieutenant, said Justice was “affectionately called ‘Mama J’ for her outreach effort to bring about change within the Police Department. She was really instrumental in helping . . . all minority officers.” Justice was so beloved that officers secretly changed her license plate to “Mama J” during a police function.


During the 1984 Olympics, Justice and her service group “The Sweethearts”, established a hospitality house for LAPD officers in the Southwest Division. The house was a 24 hour space that provided meals and facilities for showering and laundry, providing officers a respite from their grueling schedules. The house was paid for by The Sweethearts, merchants and other service clubs.

Her story as an African American Police Commissioner was dramatized in an episode of “Adam-12.” She died on September 17th, 2009 at the age of 88.

I’m adding this last picture, not only because its a great pic of Justice, but also because it demonstrates a phenomenon I will discuss later, wherein nearly everyone in the picture is staring at Tom Bradley.


Next up: I start working on the photos filed under the letter K:



Baker, Erwin. 1971. “Yorty Names Negro Woman to Police Commissioners Board.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 26, 2-d1.

Lane, Bill Sentinel, Theatrical Editor. 1971. “People-Places ‘n’ Situwayshuns.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Mar 25, 1.

Nelson, Valerie J. “Marguerite P. Justice Dies at 88; First Black Woman to Serve on L.A. Police Commission.” Los Angeles Times. September 25, 2009. Accessed August 01, 2015.

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