Niraj Chokshi of the New York Times writes that Don Hogan Charles, the Times’ first black photographer––who became well-known for his pictures of the civil rights movement, including his famous 1964 portrait of Malcolm X holding a rifle while looking through a curtained window at his Queens homedied in East Harlem on December 15, 2017.
Charles was born in New York to Elizabeth Ann Hogan and James Charles, Caribbean immigrants. He studied engineering at the City College of New York before dropping out to pursue photography. Prior to joining the Times in 1964, he worked as a freelancer for magazines such as Ebony (where the aforementioned Malcolm X picture was originally published). For the Times, he took pictures of celebrities such as John Lennon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali. He also captured Coretta Scott King in 1968 at the funeral of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Chester Higgins, one of the few other black lensmen at the paper (he came to the Times in 1975), said that Charles did not want to be “racially pigeonholed” as a photographer but knew that he was obliged to capture black life and the movement for equal rights. “He felt that his responsibility was to get the story right, that the white reporters and white photographers were very limited,” said Higgins.
Charles also had a reputation for being a mentor to people who weren’t very well represented in the workplace. “He was something else,” said Michelle Agins, who met Charles when she was a freelance photographer in Chicago and he was working at the paper’s outpost there. “When you’re a new kid at the New York Times and you needed a big brother, he was all of that.” James Estrin, a veteran staff photographer for the paper, said, “I’ve had many women photographers tell me that he stood up for them.”
Charles’s pictures can be found in the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.