Philadelphia photographer John W. Mosley (1907-1969) was a self-taught photojournalist who specialized in documenting African-American culture in the city where he lived. His fascination with photography began when he was a young man in the 1920s, and his work flourished from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Mosley’s photographs were published in numerous African-American newspapers including the renowned Philadelphia Tribune. He was a prolific photographer known to photograph up to four events every day, often working seven days a week. He captured the daily activities of Philadelphia’s Black community from family gatherings, social and cultural events, and Atlantic City vacations to famous leaders, entertainers, and athletes. It was Mosley’s intention to represent his proud heritage and to rightfully portray African-Americans in a positive manner during a difficult time of racism and segregation.
In the book titled The Journey of John W. Mosley, author Charles L. Blockson wrote: “The Mosley photographs reflect the continuity of culture and introduce the viewer to important values that have withstood the test of time…They not only represent Philadelphia but the experiences and relationships of African-Americans in cities throughout the United States. They are a testimony to the existence of an African-American humanity that warms the heart and soul as it stimulates the eye.”
Today, John W. Mosley’s photographs and negatives, estimated to number about 300,000, are preserved in the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of Temple University Libraries. In 1984, the collection was donated by historian, author, and bibliophile, Charles L. Blockson, who amassed one of the nation’s largest private collections that includes manuscripts, rare books, sheet music, letters, prints, drawings, and objects related to the history and culture of people of African descent.