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Capturing some of the most powerful aspects of African-American life from the mundane to the sublime, Geleve Grice established himself as Arkansas’s most prolific photographer for more than six decades. From his studio in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Grice produced thousands of photographs over the years for a variety of special occasions, including weddings, funerals, and school graduations. Although some of his more high profile photographs were featured in national publications, the heart of Grice’s work highlighted the common people and events of southeast Arkansas.
Geleve Grice was born on January 16, 1922, in Tamo (Jefferson County), a small farming town located fifteen miles from Pine Bluff. At the age of thirteen, Grice moved with his parents, Toy and Lillie, to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1942. An accomplished sportsman, Grice made the all-state football team his senior year of high school and later played for a service team during his four-year stint in the Navy. Grice entered the U.S. Navy immediately after graduation in the heat of World War II, eventually serving in the Pacific, where he guarded Japanese prisoners.
Grice began his photography career as a high school senior. L. C. and Daisy Bates, publishers of the Arkansas State Press newspaper, encouraged his journalistic interests by creating a gossip column that featured his images and writings about fellow Dunbar classmates. While in the Navy, Grice was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Air Station in Illinois and went to Chicago on leave, where he took amateur photos of the city’s nightlife, capturing unique images of famous black Americans like Joe Louis, Louis Armstrong, and famed guitarist T-Bone Walker.
After completing his military service on April 23, 1946, Grice enrolled at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N College), later the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), and majored in psychology. He also played football for the Golden Lions, served as yearbook photographer, and was eventually hired in 1947 as the campus photographer. In September 1949, Grice married his college sweetheart, Jean Bell of North Little Rock (Pulaski County), a singer who went on to become the first black graduate student in the music department of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). They had one son, Michael.
When he graduated in 1950, Grice had already opened the professional photography studio where he would earn his living for the next forty years. He frequently worked outside the studio for the Arkansas State Press and KARK and KTHV television stations. He often ran the sidelines, snapping photos of UAPB Golden Lions football games. Grice’s photos also appeared in such national publications as Ebony, Jet, and Life magazines.
One of the highlights of Grice’s career came while still a college student in 1948, when he was asked to document the integration of the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. Silas Hunt, accompanied by attorneys Wiley Branton and Harold Flowers, became the first black student to enroll at an all-white Southern university since Reconstruction. Grice was commissioned to document this historic moment on film. There are no other known photographs of this event.
In 1958, Grice photographed Martin Luther King Jr.’s commencement address at AM&N College. Because Grice was often called upon to chronicle significant happenings in the black community, his collection includes images of other notable black Americans, such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Ray Charles, Thurgood Marshall, and Muhammad Ali.
In 1998, the UAPB art department sponsored an exhibit of his work, Those Who Dare to Dream: The Works of Arkansas Photographer Geleve Grice. The Old State House Museum in Little Rock followed in 2003 with a more extensive exhibition of his work, A Photographer of Note: Arkansas Artist Geleve Grice. In 2003, the University of Arkansas Press published a book of the same title by Robert Cochran, featuring many of Grice’s most captivating photos.
Grice on died on August 17, 2004.
For additional information: Cochran, Robert. “Geleve Grice: Arkansas Photographer.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 58 (Winter 1999): 365–389.
———. A Photographer of Note: Arkansas Artist Geleve Grice. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
A Photographer of Note: Arkansas Artist Geleve Grice. Old State House Museum Virtual Exhibit. http://www.oldstatehouse.com/exhibits/archive/grice.aspx (accessed May 18, 2011).
Ashan R. HamptonLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 5/18/2011
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