My one-time newspaper editor and longtime friend Don Bolden had by his own estimation more than 2,000 photos in his possession at the time of his death. They are images of Burlington, Graham, Elon and other points in Alamance County dating to his start in media as a photographer for his high school newspaper just after World War II. He created or collected hundreds upon hundreds of images in his nearly lifelong newspaper career with the Burlington Times-News as a sports writer, reporter, managing editor, editor and ultimately editor emeritus. The photos are the backbone of Don’s lifetime interest in history.
Shortly after Don passed away on Aug. 2, 2018 following an eight-month battle with cancer, a handful of people in the Alamance County community asked me what would become of Don’s tremendous archive of photographs. They hoped the images would be somewhere safe and protected and perhaps scheduled for proper display at some point. One told me pointedly that they should not be tossed away or locked in storage somewhere.
The latter was never anyone’s intention. A lot of people knew there should be a good place for the images and hopefully some plan for sharing them with the public. I contacted Don’s niece Mindi Truitt who was in the labor-intensive and emotionally draining process of sorting through Don’s lifetime of possessions. There were historic photos, sure — but also family photos and other mementos. Mindi was wondering what could be done with the photos. She admitted it was an overwhelming number.
As Mindi sorted through the photos and other items, I contacted Walter Boyd, a longtime historian in Alamance County who had taken up the mantle from Don as a presenter of the community’s rich history at public events. He and Don were collaborating on a few projects at the time of Don’s death. I arranged with Mindi to put several of the historic photos of a general nature in Walter’s care. Mindi had the great idea to give Elon University-related photos and items to the the university’s archives housed in Belk Library. Some photos went to the Textile Museum in Glencoe Mill Village and a few other possessions were sent to the Times-News, where Don spent his entire career. One of the most interesting things to go the university archives was a program from Founder’s Day in 1962. It is autographed by then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would soon become president. He was the featured speaker that day, joined by notables such as Gov. Terry Sanford and U.S. Sen. B. Everett Jordan. Quite a document.
Walter Boyd is now sorting through the hundreds of photos now in his possession. Walter, a retired attorney who is also heavily involved in theater, is a wonderful recorder and reporter of history. He tells vivid tales full of rich details. Walter’s presentations are always interesting and I look forward to any writing he might publish. I know the photos will help in his storytelling.
His larger mission,though, is to assemble the photos in some kind of order so we might occasionally make them available for display to the public. It is my hope that we can assemble shows by category in a variety of places around the county. One idea I had was a photo tour of downtown Burlington. Photos would be displayed in a variety of places from the Times-News to the train station. People could walk from one place to the next and get a visual tour of how Burlington’s downtown has evolved over the past century.
There should be no shortage of images that contain news events, scenes, newsmakers, business leaders, Elon College / University, public education, agriculture, textiles, trains, the Haw River — all the things that helped define Alamance County. When it’s all sorted and assembled we owe a debt of gratitude to Don’s family for making this possible.