Collection depicts aspects of life in parts of East, West, South and Central Africa, primarily during the 20th century colonial period. The bulk of the collection dates from the late 1920s to the early 1990s, and depicts African traditional rulers; colonial officials and post-colonial African government officials; African independence leaders and military figures; rural inhabitants; Africans either visiting or living in the United States; views of ceremonial dancers and musicians; scenes of village life; educational programs and facilities; emergency relief programs for children; military troops; official meetings, conferences, ceremonies and receptions; skilled and unskilled laborers; industrial, government, business and residential buildings; and street scenes and marketplaces. Some images were produced for official government, military or relief agency publicity purposes. Depictions of pre-20th century Africa are limited, but may be found in the Nineteenth Century collections.
Of note are views of black colonial troops from the Belgian Congo being deployed during the Second World War (ca. 1943); depictions of Italian and Ethiopian troops, as well as Ethiopian civilians, officials and the Ethiopian Royal Family, during the period of the Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936); and views of foreign dignitaries attending Namibian Independence Day celebrations in Windhoek, Namibia (1990).
Related collections include the Foreign Officials and Diplomats collection, the United Nations collection, the Melville J. and Frances S. Herskovits Photograph Collection, and the Postcard collection.