Very much like John W. Mosley’s documentation of African-American life in Philadelphia and Atlantic City through photos, Allen E. Cole was a Black photographer who documented the lives of Black Cleveland, Ohio residents from the 1920s to the early 1960s.
He was so significant that Samuel Black and Regennia Williams authored a book on him titled “Through the Lens of Allen E. Cole-A Photographic History of African Americans in Cleveland Ohio.”
Aside from being a photographer, Cole was also an entrepreneur and a civic-minded businessman who migrated to Cleveland in 1917 and worked at the Cleveland Athletic Club for 10 years before opening his home portrait studio.
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Cole’s photographs appeared regularly in the Call & Post newspaper well into the 1960s, and for many years was the only black member of the Cleveland Society of Professional Photographers.
Even more impressive was that he owned his own studio for a person of color in that era and it was at the home studio that he photographed Ohio’s first African-American judge, Perry B. Jackson.
His collection consists of businessmen, politicians, teachers, clubs, churches, social and fraternal organizations, weddings, schools, and much more, spanning five decades.
Survivor of the Great Depression, Cole was a founder and treasurer of the Progressive Business League and an officer of the Dunbar Life Insurance Co. Active in the Elks and Masons, he was a member of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Thousands of Cole’s photographs are in the Allen Cole Collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society. It is a vital source material for specialists in African studies, history, sociology, urban affairs, and the photographic arts.
It is little wonder then that Cole is considered one of the greatest documentarians of African-American life in Cleveland from the late 1920s until the 60s.