28. Nashville history is national history: Photojournalist Jack Corn and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Elderly man holds a large paper photograph in two hands viewing it while leaning over a table top covered with stack of similarly sized photographs. The man, facing right, is dressed in dark dress slacks and dark plaid shirt buttoned to the wrists. He fills the frame from his forehead to knees just left of center. The photograph he views is of three children in heavy coast on a muddy road surrounded by barren trees. The photo on the top of the stack on the table is of a group of thirteen African-American youths in 1960's-style suits and dresses. A christmas tree pillow sits on the table by the photos. A sofa is behind the man against a wall beside a lamp next to a window with long curtains. He wears dark rimmed glasses. Black and white photograph.

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.

BELOW: CLICK ARROW TO SEE MORE IMAGES

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

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