John W. Mosley

Life Dates

John W. Mosley’s (1907-1969) work as a photojournalist spans over four decades (1920s-1969). His work is an incomparable record of historical events and daily life in Philadelphia’s African American community. Mosley not only recorded personalities and events during a period of momentous change for African Americans, but he also captured thousands of average people at work, at play and at church, creating a richly detailed visual history of 20th century African American life. By looking at Mosley’s achievements in the context of his time, his photographs reveal a history that only becomes visible when viewed through his distinctive experience as an African American photojournalist. Mosley, whose works are a remarkable record of a critical period in American history, adds complexity and dimension to more traditional cultural portraits of this time period.

Mosley was born in Lumberton, North Carolina. His father was a Baptist minister and also worked as a barber. Mosley attended Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina.  His interest in photography began in the 1920s, and when he moved to Philadelphia in 1934, he was hired at the Barksdale Photography Studio. Soon after relocating to Philadelphia, Mosley's photographs began appearing in African American newspapers throughout the eastern United States, including the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. He was witness and chronicler of many changes in politics, culture, sports, and fashion from the late 1930s to the late 1960s. Many of his photographs were taken in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, New Jersey, but Mosley also worked in New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. He photographed many of the prominent figures in the African American community, including Marian Anderson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, Cab Calloway, W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes.

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