Photographer James Gibson Peeler (1929-2004) spent nearly half a century documenting the African American experience in Charlotte. A native Charlottean who attended Biddleville Elementary School and West Charlotte High School, Peeler graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in 1951 and, following a stint at the New York Institute of Photography on a GI bill, he returned to Charlotte in 1954 to establish his first portrait studio on Beatties Ford Road.
Peeler’s work as a photographer included still-life, catalog images, insurance claim documentation, and studio portrait work built around a solid and loyal client base. He also photographed a wide variety of black-owned businesses from barbers and beauty shops to nightclubs and restaurants, and captured the African American community in their homes, schools, churches, and social gatherings. He also captured local civil rights leaders like Kelly and Fred Alexander and Reginald Hawkins, and photographed visits to the city by Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, and others.
A fire destroyed Peeler’s studio in 2003, but much of his personal studio collection was saved. About 200,000 + negatives and original prints were donated to the James B. Duke Memorial Library at Johnson C. Smith University by the Peeler family, and have been preserved and organized. Thousands of images are still being processed and digitized, and will be available to browse on the Peeler Studio SmugMug page.