BiographyBoyd B. Browder was one of Knoxville's foremost photographers whose work helped chronicle local African American life during the early 20th century. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee on January 31st, 1837, Browder came from humble beginnings and spent a considerable amount of his youth enjoying sports, studying wildlife, and traveling throughout East Tennessee. Around his teen years, Browder was educated at Austin High School and worked at Staub's Theatre (later renamed Lyric Theatre) formerly located on Gay Street. With his income, Browder was able to purchase a bicycle, thus making him the first Black person in Knoxville to own one.
It is not exactly known why Browder later chose to become a photographer. However, with his combined enthusiasm for travel and interest in surveying life around him, this no doubt influenced his decision to eventually open up a small studio in his home at 108 West Hill Avenue around the early 1910s. According to the Knoxville Negro of 1929, Browder’s home was regarded as “the Mecca for most of Knoxville’s colored population who had photographs made.” Best known for his portrait shots, he produced high quality photography, capturing each client in a formal and dignified manner. His work was especially admired by black people in Knoxville at a time when positive representation was crucial in upholding the decency of the race. With increased success and even more increasing clientele (both black and white), Browder needed a larger space suitable to continue running his studio. He would later set up business at 405 West Vine Avenue and subsequently at 310 East Vine Avenue during the 1920s. His studio was often advertised in local black publications and his photographic subjects usually included some of the most well-respected names in the community as well as social club goers, students, families, church participants, businesses, and the everyday person who simply wanted a piece of their life memorialized for years to come.
While Boyd Browder enjoyed much success during the 1910s-20s, his work in the photography industry unfortunately had to come to an end after his business fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Yet, this was not to be the end of Mr. Browder’s legacy. From 1942 to 1946, he served as an elected member of the Knox County Court from the First Civil District. This was an incredible accomplishment in which Browder became the fifth black justice of peace in Knox County’s history and the first black person to hold the position in more than a quarter of the 20th century.
Although his career as a professional photographer was rather short-lived, the success of Browder’s work has had a long-lasting impact, magnifying a defining era in Knoxville’s black history. His photographs, many preserved here at the Beck Cultural Center, provide today’s audience a glimpse into a part of the city’s past that is as fascinating as it has been too often overlooked.
Boyd Browder Photography
Boyd B. Browder
Boyd Browder Studio