For the past 10 years, photographs by the late Richard Samuel Roberts have been part of a national tour of art museums.
Yet many people locally may not be familiar with his background or the significance of his work in Columbia.
That's why the Historic Columbia Foundation hopes to put up an historical marker at the Roberts home at 1717 Wayne St., in Arsenal Hill.
It's one of many important local sites that need a decorative sign giving people information about the city's history, says Belinda Gergel, incoming president of Historic Columbia.
Gergel said the idea occurred to her after reviewing a 1986 book of Roberts' photos, "A True Likeness," that mentioned the Roberts home, near Finlay Park.
"About a year ago," Gergel said, "I picked the book back up, and when I saw the address, jumped in the car and went over to see if it was still standing."
According to Historic Columbia, 800 historical markers have been erected in the state since 1936. Only 60 are associated with African-American history or heritage.
The organization intends to identify local landmarks that merit signs in the coming year and, by mid-2003, embark on a fund-raising campaign to pay for them, director Roger Poston said.
The Roberts home will be high on the list, he added.
Tom Johnson loves the idea. Johnson is an archivist who went to the Roberts family in the 1980s, seeking information about the photographer's work.
What he found was that the family had carefully preserved thousands of glass plates in a cool, dark space under the family home.
"That was a stroke of genius," Johnson said. "If they'd put them in the attic, they would've burned up."
Johnson said there are few collections like the Roberts' work.
"There may be one or two others like it in the South," he said. "It is extremely rare to have that many to survive, covering that period of time."
Roberts photographed middle-class, black Columbians from 1920 until his death in 1936.
Kevin Tucker, chief curator of the Columbia Museum of Art, said the exhibit including Roberts' photos has brought "new recognition" to his work nationally.
Originally published - August 8, 2002