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News Release

For immediate use

Feb. 28, 2007

Local angles: Belmont, Boiling Springs,
Charlotte, High Point, Shelby

Note: Sturkey will speak at UNC on March 22.

Photos: To download photos, see end of story

Photographer Don Sturkey’s witness
to history on display in UNC libraries

CHAPEL HILL – A young, unrecognized Elvis Presley being turned away from the Charlotte Coliseum. The ladies auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in hoods and robes. Children living in poverty.

These are just a few subjects of the photos of longtime Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey, which now are on exhibit in two libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Carolina Faces: The Photography of Don Sturkey,” on display through May 31, features 39 of his photos in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of Wilson Library and 14 in the entrance area of Davis Library.

Sturkey will give a free public lecture about his career and photographs at 5:45 p.m. March 22 in Wilson Library. A reception at 5 p.m. will precede the program. The talk and exhibits are free to the public.

As a photojournalist in North Carolina from 1952 to 1989, Sturkey was witness to history writ large and small. In 2005, he donated his archive of approximately 104,000 photographic negatives to the North Carolina Collection, where they are preserved and available for consultation and use.

Sturkey, of Belmont, chose the images to be exhibited. “I chose photos that I really liked,” he said. “I never liked photos that were over-posed or over-manipulated. I always tried as much as possible to be a fly on the wall and to document things as they really are.”

He also sought out a good cross section of photos that captured the reality of life in the Carolinas, he said.

“Sturkey prided himself on capturing the emotion of the moment,” said Bob Anthony, North Carolina Collection curator. “Looking at these photos is like being allowed a glimpse of the subject’s most inner self.”

Sturkey, a native of Lincolnton, Ga., attended Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., and discovered his calling while in the Navy during the Korean War.

His photojournalism career began with the Shelby Daily Star and the High Point Enterprise. In 1955, he joined The Charlotte Observer and was promoted to chief photographer in 1963, a position he held until he retired in 1989.    

Sturkey won the National Press Photographers Association’s Newspaper Photographer of the Year award in 1961 and was Southern Photographer of the Year in 1962 and 1963. He was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 1991.

Sturkey wrote “A Slice of Time: A Carolina’s Album 1950-90” (1990). He provided photographs for “The Catawba River” (1983) and “Becoming Truly Free: 300 Years of Black History in the Carolinas” (1985).

For more information, contact Linda Jacobson in the North Carolina Collection at (919) 962-1172 or

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Photos: Following are cutlines and URLs for downloading images of Don Sturkey photos included in the exhibit. The first two were published in the Charlotte Observer. Sturkey holds copyrights on the photos.:

A boy looks at the disarray in his family’s farm kitchen in Jones County in March 1969. Taken as part of the “Hunger in Our Midst” series on rural poverty in North Carolina.

Mrs. Maude J. Baker of Denver, N.C., at the end of the day service at the Rock Spring Methodist Camp Meeting in Lincoln County, September 1962.

Work comes to a halt as shocked Observer newsroom staff members stand in front of a small television set placed on the city editor’s desk to watch coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 1963.

Two young black men pass Ku Klux Klan marchers in downtown Salisbury, August 1964. The Klan was active in North Carolina, and Sturkey covered many of their demonstrations.

Library contacts: Linda Jacobson, (919) 962-1172,; Judy Panitch, (919) 962-1301;
News Services contact: LJ Toler, (919) 962-8589