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Claflin University to digitize photographic history, thanks to new grant

A grant from Getty Images will allow the university to create a historic archive.

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Claflin University in Orangeburg is one of four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) awarded a $500,000 grant by Getty Images to help preserve the visual history of HBCUs. 

This grant will allow the university to create a digital archive of thousands of photographs of the university's history.

“During my lifetime, I used mostly film. So, all of the archives here, mostly so, are in film," said Cecil Williams, Claflin University's Director of Historic Preservation.  

With the help of university staff members and interns, Williams will digitize the photos.

“Among the film that we have digitized that would be available for Getty is this picture of Claflin University students marching for freedom, justice and equality," Williams said.

Other photos will include Thurgood Marshall visiting Claflin University and Briggs v. Elliot, a court case that challenged school segregation in Summerton.

Williams says he will digitize the photos using a device he invented in 2015 called a "film toaster" which will allow him to digitize a single photo in 1/50 of a second.

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“A film toaster contains all the elements that’s needed to accurately and very consistently take a close-up image of each particular negative," he said.

Claflin junior Arteria Gibson says this grant will help keep the university's history alive.

“I think it’s a great way for my generation to see history come together, especially how social media is very prevalent in our lives," Gibson said. "I think this is the perfect way for students to reconnect with our history."

“It means that Claflin will be on a broader level," said Claflin senior Eric McClam. "It also means that it will attract more students and be more knowledgeable on the history at Claflin."

The other universities awarded the grant are Jackson State University, North Carolina Central University and Prairie View A&M University.

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"These images provide compelling visual narratives of how Claflin’s dedicated and visionary administrators, distinguished faculty and staff, and high-achieving scholars made indelible contributions to Orangeburg, the State of South Carolina and the world," said Claflin University president Dwuan J. Warmack.

The photos will be viewable in the "Historically Black Colleges and Universities Collection" on the Getty images website.

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