Roland Harper (1878-1966) was a lot of things, notably a geologist and botanist. According to a biographical sketch published two years after his death (see end of post for reference), “Roland Harper was intent. He botanized, observed, photographed, walked, editorialized, criticized, lived, intently.” This kind of focus, coupled with his wide range of interests, made him a particularly prolific documentarian of Southern life.
On his travels around Alabama and Georgia, as he examined rock formations and local flora, Harper also picked up artifacts of everyday life (for example, see our collection of his railroad timetables) and took hundreds of photographs of the communities he visited or passed through. One thing that frequently drew his attention was a central part of early 20th century community life: the local church.
Below is a selection of images he took of churches in the South, from the turn of the century through the late 1950s. Harper would have been about 23 when the first picture below was taken and around 80 as he took the last.
Cities and counties are in Alabama if not otherwise noted.
Church in Georgia, 1901
Interior of log church in Dooley County, Georgia, 1903
Church in Georgia, 1904
Church in Burke County, Georgia, 1904
Frame church in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1918
Little Bethel A.M.E. church, south of Selma, 1922
Byrdine A.M.E. Zion church (background) in Greene County, 1923
Methodist Church and parsonage in Lowndesboro, 1924
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lowndesboro, 1924
Two churches in Jefferson County, Florida, 1925
Church in Calhoun County, Florida, 1925
Two churches in Dallas County, 1927
First Congregational church (left) in Montgomery, 1927
Methodist Church in Somerville, 1927
Two churches in Russell County, 1927
Church in Alabama, 1928
Sands Baptist Church in Hart County, Georgia, 1929
Presbyterian Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, 1930
Prebyterian church in Eutaw, 1931
Episcopal church and cemetery in Carlowville, 1933
Two Catholic churches in Fredericksburg, Texas, 1934
Church on a dirt road in either Louisiana or Mississippi, 1934
Old Pisgah Church in Marshall County, 1937
Old Five-Mile Church between Akron and Greensboro, 1938
Church (background) in Virginia, 1940
Church being built north of Littleville, 1941
African-American church in Mobile, 1949
Church in Dayton, 1952
Church in Eatonville, Florida, 1955
Beard’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion church, Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1956
Castle Hill Baptist church (foreground) and Bethel Church (background) in Alabama(?), 1956
African-American church in Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1957
Brick church in Tuscaloosa, 1958
African-American Church in Tuscaloosa, 1958
Seventeenth Street A.O.H. Church of God in Tuscaloosa, circa 1958
Ewan, Joseph. “Roland McMillan Harper (1878-1966).” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 95.4 (1968): 390-393.