Emory University’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) recently acquired 748 vintage silver gelatin prints from Atlanta photographer, Ron Sherman. Sherman spent three decades covering politics, sports, and life in Atlanta and the South for a variety of publications and outlets.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the camera bug bit Sherman early in life. By the time he was a teenager, he was shooting high school football games for his local paper. He even put his photography skills to work while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He arrived in Atlanta in 1971 after receiving his master’s degree from Syracuse University. He came to Atlanta during an interesting time in the city’s history; Hank Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, African American political power had emerged as a powerful force in local elections, and the South was playing a larger role in national politics than it had in over a century. And Ron Sherman photographed it all.
Sherman considers covering of the most exciting assignments of his career. This home run moved Aaron past Babe Ruth’s longstanding record. Sherman took one of the iconic photographs of the night, a photo of Aaron rounding the bases as two fans who ran onto the field congratulated him. Sherman’s picture is perhaps the most widely distributed image of Aaron’s home run. Its widespread distribution was due to the fact, Sherman says, that he was shooting with black and white film and not color. Because he used black and white film, United Press International was able to quickly develop the film and distribute the photograph in time to be printed in the following day’s newspapers around the world. A lifelong baseball fan, Sherman feels lucky to have been “part of the action” during such an historic event.
But, the 1970s wasn’t just an exciting time to be a Braves fan in Atlanta. Other changes were taking place that would forever change the history of the city, the region, and the country. One of Sherman’s striking photographs shows Coretta Scott King, the King family, Maynard Jackson, the first African American to be elected mayor of Atlanta, U.S. Congressman Andrew Young, who would go on to serve as both the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the mayor of Atlanta, and Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tomb in 1974. The previous day Chavez had been awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.
Sherman also spent time embedded with Jimmy Carter’s campaign for the presidency in 1976. One picture in the collection shows the personal side of Carter’s campaigning skills—where he is being mobbed by supporters. In this photo, people are visibly excited to interact with Carter. But being able to capture a candidate’s personal interactions with voters is something that Sherman says is not possible in the current political climate. Sherman remembers that he too was able to establish a rapport with the candidate during the campaign. “You can’t get [that kind of] access today in the way you could back then,” Sherman notes. He attributes this change to the Internet and how with the 24-hour news cycle, politicians now seek more than ever to control the way they are portrayed in the press.
When asked about what message he had for the students who would be looking at his images, Sherman hopes that students will be able to examine past events through photographs, by being able to see the setting and characters in this remarkable collection.