Exhibition Celebrates the Work of The Oakland Tribune's First Black Photographer


Multiple Women Dressed Attending West Oakland Methodist Church, 1967.

San Francisco Public Library Presents Toward a Black Aesthetic: Kenneth P. Green Sr.’s Photographs of the 1960s and 70s 

Public Opening Reception and Press Preview: January 25, 5:30 p.m., San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street 

San Francisco, January 4, 2024 - San Francisco Public Library announces the opening of a captivating exhibition on January 25, Toward a Black Aesthetic: Kenneth P. Green Sr.’s Photographs of the 1960s and 70s. Green, a lifelong Bay Area resident and the first Black staff photographer for the Oakland Tribune from 1968 to 1982, played a pivotal role in documenting the significant social changes of that era. Lovingly co-curated by Green’s son, Kenneth P. Green, Jr., Toward a Black Aesthetic features a large selection of works that have never been exhibited publicly. 

“The family is excited to share the rich history of Oakland and the Bay Area through my dad’s work, much of which is largely unknown,” says Green, Jr. “My dad shot with his heart open, with feeling and emotion. He always wanted to show more than the primary subject to give a complete view and understanding of what was going on. We always knew he was a good photographer, but through the process of curating this show, we learned more about who he was as an artist.” 

The exhibition title is derived from Hoyt W. Fuller's essay, “Towards A Black Aesthetic", (1968) from the anthology of African American literary criticism, Within the Circle.  The show highlights the intersection between fashion, entertainment and politics during the 1960s and 70s. Toward a Black Aesthetic has two distinct sections that illustrate Green’s range and ability to find the extraordinary within the ordinary and capture the essence of his subjects. 

The first section, located in the Main Library’s Jewett Gallery, focuses on his remarkable images of Black women in the Bay Area. According to Green, Jr., “Through archiving and building a database of his work, I realized I had this huge collection of portraits of Black women. Every stack, every roll, has an image of a Black woman and many of them were of my mom.” Through his lens, Green recognized and paid homage to their strength, intellect and beauty. Each photo reveals the poise and empathy of the individuals portrayed, while also showcasing the artistry in which Green rendered the multifaceted and organic expression of the Black communities in the Bay Area.

“My dad captured the kinship among the women in the community who taught consciousness and love and made sure that their offspring had good moral character. And they looked good doing it,” says Green, Jr. “The women were the ones who did the storytelling and carried the culture and aesthetic. Within that aesthetic you can see our African diaspora, the racism of America and the creativity of our people who create everything about ourselves through these complex prisms. My dad saw all of that and felt that he needed to represent the beauty of people who were underrepresented. This is not what white America wanted to see; working-class Black women at their best, in their natural state.” 

The exhibition continues in the Main Library’s African American Center, where Green's vibrant documentary photographs of San Francisco's May 27, 1972, African Liberation Day demonstration are displayed alongside historical objects and ephemera from the event. This demonstration, which attracted hundreds in San Francisco and more than 60,000 people in demonstrations across the United States and Canada, marked the largest gathering of Black people in support of Africa since the Marcus Garvey movement in the 1920s. The march, organized by African American leaders from across the country, aimed to promote education about struggles in Africa within the Black community. The theme of the day was "Black Unity: Breaking the Chains of Oppression." The march began at Raymond Kimbell Park and proceeded through the Fillmore neighborhood, leaving an indelible mark on the City's history.

Charles Linder, a friend of Green, Jr., helped organize Toward a Black Aesthetic and it was co-curated by Senior Exhibition Curator Megan Merritt and Manager of the Library’s African American Center Shawna Sherman. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Kenneth Green, Jr. to bring his father’s legacy into the light once again,” said Sherman. “Green’s work shows a photographer with a deep love for his people. The joy, the determination and the beauty in these photographs show the full complexity of our lives. His artistic mastery is the perfect complement to our Black History Month programming celebrating African Americans in the arts.”

The Library hosts several public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. The opening reception features a table talk with Green, Jr. and several of Kenneth P. Green Sr.’s friends and colleagues about his father’s work and legacy. On February 28, Dr. Tanisha Ford will be in conversation with Dr. Tiffany E. Barber on African American fashion culture and its influence on the past, present and future. The discussion will revolve around fashion themes discussed in Ford's books, Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion (St. Martins, June 2019), the award-winning Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (UNC Press, 2015) and her latest book, Our Secret Society: Mollie Moon and the Glamour, Money, and Power Behind the Civil Rights Movement. More programs to be announced at a later date. 

The exhibition opens during the Library’s More Than a Month: Black History & Heritage celebration. Beginning on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday weekend (Jan. 15), during Black History Month and throughout the year, SFPL brings vibrant authors, book clubs, films, exhibits music, dance and performance programs celebrating Black history and futures to the City. Green’s Girls on Ocean Beach, an exuberant photograph of two young women running down the beach with the Cliff House in the background, is the featured image in the Library’s 2024 More Than a Month campaign that can be seen throughout the City. For more information about the exhibition, related events and More Than a Month programming, visit the Library's website at sfpl.org. All programs are free and open to the public.

Toward a Black Aesthetic: Kenneth P. Green Sr.’s Photographs of the 1960s and 70s was made possible through funding by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. 

About the Artist 

Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1942, Green moved to San Francisco with his family in 1947. His passion for photography was nurtured by his father, Albert Grandville Green, a prolific painter and photographer, as well as his best friend, Elvoyce Hooper, who inspired him during junior high school. Green's dedication to his craft led him to enroll in Laney Community College in Oakland, where he earned his degree in photography. His exceptional ability to capture authentic and dynamic images quickly made him the most requested staff photographer at the Oakland Tribune during his 14-year tenure.

Tragically, on June 25, 1982, while on assignment, Kenneth P. Green Sr. was killed after being struck by a train. His untimely passing left a void in the world of photography, but his legacy lives on through his remarkable body of work. Beyond his contributions to the Oakland Tribune, Green's photographs celebrated and evoked the true essence of Black communities in the Bay Area during the transformative 1960s and 70s.

*High-res images available upon request. Email kate.patterson@sfpl.org

All events are free and open to the public. More information at sfpl.org.

Toward a Black Aesthetic: Kenneth P. Green, Sr.’s Photographs of the 1960s and 70s
On view January 25 to April 21, 2024
Opening reception: January 25, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, Jewett Gallery, Lower Level and African American Center, 3rd Floor 

Author: Dr. Tanisha Ford in Conversation with Dr. Tiffany E. Barber – Feb. 28, 6 p.m., Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, African American Center, 3rd Floor and Virtual Library

January 4, 2024