28. Nashville history is national history: Photojournalist Jack Corn and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Retired photojournalist and professor Jack Corn looks through a collection of his historic photographs with his friend, retired photojournalist Nancy Rhoda, at his Nashville home, December 2017.
When President Lyndon Johnson delivered his ground-breaking speech declaring a “war on poverty” it was one of these photographs by Jack Corn he held up depicting the poverty of a coal miner family.
Jack said he began photographing the plight of the coal mining families in Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee while working full-time as a photojournalist at Nashville’s The Tennessean. However his editors did not see the value in Jack spending time traveling and constantly returning to the eastern region so he ended up doing the work on his own time and with his own money.
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Jack said it was usually this way with the news agencies. If you really wanted to go deep you had to find a way to do it on your own because no one had the patience or willingness to invest the resources in such a deep look into a place.
It turned out that Jack’s weekend excursions turned into a deep relationship with people and a place. And in the end his photographs caught the attention of the U.S. President. Jack said a friend of his knew First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson and took a portfolio of Jack’s photos of these poor people to the First Lady. She was so moved by the stories that she took the photos to her husband. The rest is history.
But this wasn’t a one time affair for Jack. His entire career was spent seeking to make portraits of life we miss. Prisoners, young people fighting for the right to be equal human beings. Jack even became the subject in a news story one day when he was attacked while photographing people protesting against civil rights.
For Jack photojournalism was not for entertainment but for justice.
BELOW: CLICK TO WATCH A SHORT VIDEO OF PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON AND HIS WIFE TOURING THE COMMUNITIES JACK CORN DOCUMENTED