Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 40

Fact Sheet

Allen E. Cole was a professional photographer in Cleveland's African-American community. He was born in Kearneysville, West Virginia on September 1, 1883 and died February 6, 1970. After graduating from Storer College he worked as a waiter in Atlantic City, moved to Cincinnati and worked as a railroad porter. After an injury due to a train accident, Cole formed a partnership in real-estate with attorney Justice Carter. When sales and rentals slowed, Cole moved to Cleveland and worked as a waiter at the Cleveland Athletic Club. It was here that he met Joseph Opet who was manager of the Frank Moore Studios. Opet introduced Cole to photography and taught him the various aspects of photography. After six years of working with Opet in his spare time, Cole decided to leave the Cleveland Athletic Club and make his living as a photographer. He opened his first studio in his home in 1922, eventually moving to 9909 Cedar Avenue. Cole's studio was close to the churches, business establishments and residences of a huge segment of the Cleveland African American population.

He photographed single and group formal portraits, did commercial work during the Depression for eight white studios, did studio portraits, internal views, street scenes and contributed photographs for the Cleveland Call and Post. He served as the photographer of the African-American community of Cleveland. Cole was also founder and treasurer of the Progressive Business League and a member of the International Photographic Association and for years was the only African-American member of the Cleveland Society of Professional Photographers.

The Cole collection of approximately 27,000 negatives and several thousand finished prints produced between 1920 and 1960, is now a part of the photographic holdings of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Cole's photographs detail a variety of aspects of the African-American community that thrived along the streets of Cleveland's east side. Cole produced photographs of new businesses and their staffs, night clubs, entertainers, private parties in private homes, community organizations, as well as portraits of individuals and families. In 1980, the Western Reserve Historical Society reproduced a selection of Cole's photographs in a book that takes its title from his business motto, "Somebody, Somewhere, Wants Your Photograph".

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