July 13, 2023

The Center for Public History (CPH) at Shawnee State University has announced its recent acquisition of the Billy Graham Photograph Collection. The extensive collection offers unparalleled access to the visual history of Portsmouth, Ohio, and its surrounding area in the decades following World War II. With the addition of these photographs, CPH further solidifies its commitment to preserving, digitizing, and sharing the cultural heritage of the region.

Charles Bayless, Butch Stall, and Andrew Feight, Ph.D., stand before the Billy Graham Photograph Collection
Charles Bayless, Butch Stall, and Andrew Feight, Ph.D., stand before the Billy Graham Photograph Collection at the SSU Center for Public History. Bayless and Stall donated the collection, which encompasses some 30 years of photographic negatives made by Billy Graham of the Portsmouth Daily Times.

William Ray "Billy" Graham (1930-2016), a native of Portsmouth, was recognized as the first full-time photographer of the Portsmouth Daily Times, where he worked for 32 years. Perhaps best remembered for his long-running series of portraits, "Little People," Graham had an extraordinary talent for capturing the essence of the local community through his lens. His dedication to documenting the people, places, and events of Portsmouth has left an indelible mark on the city's history. Graham's perspective forever shapes the vision of life in Post-War Portsmouth.

Graham's passion for photography extended beyond his work at the newspaper. He taught photography at SSU, developing the talents of a new generation of visual storytellers, and he was a longtime member of the Portsmouth Camera Club Association.

"The acquisition of the Billy Graham Photograph Collection is a significant milestone for Shawnee State University,” SSU Director of the CPH, Dr. Andrew Feight said. “These photographs provide an unparalleled window into Portsmouth, Ohio's past, preserving the community's photographic record and enabling us to better understand and visualize the city's rich history. This collection will be an invaluable resource for researchers, scholars, documentary filmmakers, and anyone interested in exploring the transformative moments that have shaped our city."

The Graham Collection will complement CPH’s other archival holdings, particularly its Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Collection, which includes hard copies of the Portsmouth Times from the late 1850s into the 1980s. Together, these collections offer a comprehensive view of Portsmouth's history, spanning over a century.

CPH expresses a deep gratitude to Charles Bayless, who inherited the collection from his brother-in-law, Elmer Bernard Sword, the renowned local historian. Recognizing the importance of preserving these historical treasures, Bayless worked alongside Butch Stall to generously donate the collection to the CPH. Their commitment to preserving and sharing Portsmouth's photographic record will undoubtedly benefit the community for generations to come.

In line with its mission to promote accessibility and engagement with historical materials, the CPH plans to digitize the Billy Graham Photograph Collection. This digitization effort will begin immediately and will ensure that these captivating images are accessible to the public and scholars alike. The online availability of the collection will foster greater appreciation for Portsmouth's past, and serve as an invaluable resource for SSU's undergraduate History program, providing students with hands-on experience in archival research and digital preservation.

The acquisition of the Billy Graham Photograph Collection marks another significant step forward for SSU's CPH in its efforts to preserve, showcase, and promote the rich history of Portsmouth, Ohio. The center invites the public to stay tuned for updates on the digitization progress and future opportunities to explore this remarkable collection. CPH is also calling for volunteers to help with the digitization process and identification of the people, places, and events in the photographs. Those interested in contributing their time and expertise to this important endeavor are encouraged to contact the Center for more information at  

Shawnee State University’s Center for Public History has a mission to advance the field of public history through public-facing, community-engaged scholarship, and cultural heritage initiatives in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the surrounding Appalachian region. On campus, it supports academic programs in the university’s College of Arts & Sciences by facilitating undergraduate research projects and other grant-funded initiatives with our community partners.