Ask Nichelle Gainer why she decided to create Vintage Black Glamour, and her answer is simple: She saw a need.
As a writer, Gainer learned to research, which often led to beautiful historic photographs of African-American artists, actors and political figures, all hidden away in the corners and file cabinets of libraries and academic institutions. Why haven’t more people seen these? she wondered. Out of that question, Vintage Black Glamour was born.
“African-Americans who have an interest in American history that includes black people almost have to become amateur detectives and part-time scholars to track down information and that is ridiculous,” she said from her home in New York City.
Gainer, 44, created Vintage Black Glamour on Tumblr in 2011. She put up photos of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a 1967 vacation in Jamaica, where he wrote his final book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” She unearthed a rare full-color portrait of Zora Neale Hurston from 1940. She reminded readers that Renauld White graced the cover of GQ in 1979, the first African-American man to accomplish that feat.
For Gainer, who attended the creative writing program at New York University, the project is pure “edutainment.” The history buff likes to add context wherever it is available, providing a mini history lesson to match the photos. She has been working with a new imprint, Rocket 88, to bring out a text version this spring.
Gainer said Vintage Black Glamour has a deeper meaning than simple nostalgia over beautiful dresses and sharp suits.
“How we looked and how we put ourselves together…a lot of it was self-preservation and representing an image of how black men and women were,” Gainer explained in a recent interview. “Most vintage photos of African-Americans that get wide exposure tend to be very sober, and even sad.”
These days, Vintage Black Glamour has more than 215,000 fans on Facebook, a popularity that doesn’t surprise its creator.
“People write comments on my social media channels all the time saying things like, ‘I’ve never seen this photo before!’ or ‘I’ve never even heard of this person!'” Gainer said. “And then they go on to talk about what has been left out of the classroom and history books over the years and how that shapes perceptions of African-Americans. But black history is American history — it’s one of my mantras!”