THE UPSHAWS OF COUNTY LINE: An American Family by Richard S. Orton (Liberia)


Winner of  the Ottis Locke Best Book of a Historical Photographic/Artistic Nature from the East Texas Historical Association, 2015


Guss, Felix, and Jim Upshaw founded the community of County Line in the 1870s in northwest Nacogdoches County, in deep East Texas.  As with hundreds of other relatively autonomous black communities created at that time, the Upshaws sought a safe place to raise their children and create a livelihood during Reconstruction and Jim Crow Texas.

In the late 1980s photographer, Richard Orton visited County Line for the first time and became aware of a world he did not know existed as a white man.  He met some remarkable people there who changed his life.

The more than 50 duotone photographs and text convey the contemporary experience of growing up in a “freedom colony.” Covering a period of twenty-five years, photographer Richard Orton juxtaposes his images with text from people who grew up in and have remained connected to their birthplace.  Thad Sitton’s foreword sets the community in historical context and Roy Flukinger points out the beauty of the documentary photographs.

This book should appeal to anyone interested in American or Texas history, particularly the history of African Americans in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. The book should also be of interest to anyone with an appreciation for documentary photography, including students and teachers of photography.

RICHARD ORTON was born in Nacogdoches and raised in Midland. He became mesmerized by photography after seeing an image materializing in a development tray. After two years in the Peace Corps (Liberia 1969-71), he settled in Austin, Texas, where he worked with nonprofits before becoming a photographer for the Texas House of Representatives. He moved back to Nacogdoches in 2007.


The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family
by Richard S.Orton (Liberia 1969-71)
University of North Texas Press
144 pages
October 2014
$41.27 (hardcover)

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