The William Pickens Photograph Collection depicts some aspects of his personal life and his professional career as a writer, orator, an official for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), and a United States Treasury Department official, from the 1920s to the 1940s. The collection consists of individual and group portraits and snapshots of Pickens; his wife, Minnie McAlpine Pickens; friends; and professional colleagues. Also depicted are portraits of baby contest winners; group portraits and views from conferences and meetings; and views from an ocean voyage. The collection contains no images from his early life or his career as an educator.
The collection includes a portrait of Pickens with the three winners of the Dayton, Ohio, branch of the N.A.A.C.P. baby contest (1924); an undated studio portrait of Minnie McAlpine Pickens; views of Pickens and James Waldon Johnson in the office of The Crisis Magazine (ca. 1920s); a group portrait of Pickens and participants at "William Pickin's [sic] Day," sponsored by the Enon Ridge Civic League, Birmingham, Alabama (1932); Pickens, with a group of colleagues, posing with a truck to solicit aid for the American Relief Ship to the Spanish Republic (ca. late 1930s); Pickens and co-workers from around the period he was working for the U.S. Treasury Department (ca. 1940s); and a group portrait of Pickens with students and faculty of A & I (Agricultural and Industrial) State College (now Tennessee State University), in Nashville, who have purchased defense bonds (early 1940s).
Also depicted are views from an undated ocean voyage on the R.M.S. Queen Mary; a group of studio portraits of friends and aquaintances, including child piano prodigy Philippa Schuyler and Annie Nathan Meyer, senior trustee and founder of Barnard College, New York; two posters, bearing Williams' image but no dates or specific information, that were probably used to publicize his speaking engagements; and a group of snapshots, portraits and photo greeting cards depicting some of Pickens' European friends (mostly German) and their families and homes (ca. 1920s-1940s). Another group of images consists of studio portraits of infants and young children who were baby contest winners, sponsored by local branches of the N.A.A.C.P., that were subsequently published in The Crisis Magazine (ca. 1920s).
Biographical/historical: William Pickens, educator, orator, civil rights activist and government official, was born in Anderson County, South Carolina, in 1881. Raised and educated in Arkansas, he would receive several college degrees including a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics from Yale University (1904); a Master of Arts from Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee (1908); and a literature doctorate from Selma University (1915). He also served as a Latin and German instructor at Talladega College, Alabama (1904-1909); head of the Greek and Sociology Departments at Wiley College, Marshall, Texas (1909-1915), from where he received a law doctorate in 1920; and Dean (1915-1920) and Vice President (1918-1920) of Morgan College, Baltimore.
In 1920, Pickens become Field Secretary and the Director of the Branches for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), using his organizing and oratory skills to successfully raise funds and membership for the organization. He also served as Forum Leader of the Federal Forum Projects of the United States, Department of the Interior (1937-1938) and, in 1940, was appointed by New York Governor Herbert Lehman to the Selective Service System Appeals Board in New York City.
In 1942, during the Second World War, Pickens officially resigned from the N.A.A.C.P. to become Director and Chief of the Interracial Section of the Savings Bond Division, U.S. Treasury Department, where he successfully led black bond buyers through eight war bond drives. After the war, he travelled thousands of miles across the country to sell African-Americans on the idea of thrift through government securities. After retiring in 1951, he began to travel extensively and write articles for various newspapers. He would die while on a Caribbean cruise, off Kingston, Jamaica, in 1954.