Wearing a black beret and with a camera in hand, Jack T. Franklin quietly kept an eye on black life and culture in Philadelphia and on the civil-rights movement for more than 60 years.
A prolific photographer, Mr. Franklin took more than 400,000 images of African Americans, from common folk to civil-rights leaders and top entertainers. He died Sunday of heart failure at the Steven Smith Home for the Aged at Girard Avenue in West Philadelphia. He was 87.
A longtime North Philadelphia resident, Mr. Franklin photographed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and the 1963 March on Washington. He also was a fixture at the Uptown Theater, where he took shots of performers from James Brown to Sam Cooke to Patti LaBelle.
He also took photos of Rosa Parks, Cecil B. Moore, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and many other black leaders.
In 1992, an exhibit of Mr. Franklin's images of the civil-rights movement was featured at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The exhibit was titled: "Protest and Participation: Freedom Ain't Free."
In an Inquirer interview about the exhibit, Mr. Franklin reflected on his photos from the turbulent years of the civil-rights movement.
"Back then, I didn't think these photos were going to be used," he said. "I wondered why I knocked myself out when the media, nobody seemed interested. I did freelance work and tried to sell them. But half the time, I ended up with them. . . . Now, everybody's interested. This is history."
Historian Charles Blockson agreed that Mr. Franklin's work was historic, comparing his photographic legacy with those of noted black photographers James Van Der Zee, Charles "Teenie" Harris, and John Mosley.
"Although they are gone physically, their work will remain for generations to come," Blockson said.
"They were here, there, and everywhere, oftentimes without any mode of transportation. . . . They photographed the high and low of our society, and their eyes were always on the positive," Blockson said.
Many of Mr. Franklin's images are now housed at the African American Museum. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, featured on the CBS News show Sunday Morning, and published in black magazines such as Sepia and in newspapers including the Philadelphia Tribune.
Jack Theodore Franklin was born May 7, 1922, in Philadelphia, the third of three children of Frank Franklin and Florence Collier Franklin.
He became a shutterbug as a child growing up in the 2100 block of York Street, relatives said.
In 1933, when Mr. Franklin was 10, his sister, Eloise Owens Strothers, gave him a camera she'd bought for him at the Chicago World's Fair, niece Yvonne Jones said.
"At every family affair we had, my uncle would take zillions of pictures of everyone there," Jones said.
After graduating from Simon Gratz High School, Mr. Franklin worked as a photographer and darkroom technician at the former Merlin Studios in Philadelphia. In the Army during World War II, Mr. Franklin worked as a photographer in the South Pacific.
He later studied photography at the Army Signal Corps Photographic Center in Astoria, N.Y.
When he returned to Philadelphia, Mr. Franklin began photographing social events throughout the city.
Over the next five decades Mr. Franklin used his cameras to chronicle African American life.
"Jack Franklin documented many of the historic moments in the lives of black Philadelphians," said Romona Riscoe Benson, president and CEO of the African American Museum.
Richard Watson, curator of exhibitions at the museum, said Mr. Franklin "was one of those iconic figures that, in every social quarter and every political quarter that had anything to do with the black community, he was the vanguard photographer for so many years."
Mr. Franklin is survived by his wife, Jessie Reed Franklin; son Jack Savage; and daughters Anita Michelle Franklin and Geraldine Warren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Mattie Meridian Franklin; and a son, Kevin Franklin.
A viewing will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday at the Church of the Advocate, 1801 Diamond St. The funeral follows at 11 a.m.
A tribute to Mr. Franklin will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 14 at the African American Museum, Seventh and Arch Streets.