Rocky Mount in Focus: The Legacy of Photographer Charlie Killebrew

Charlie Killebrew photography Rocky Mount

 

Photographs are about much more than capturing images and preserving memories. Each time the shutter opens, we gain a window of exposure to an era. These snapshots are not only of people and places, but the essence of the time and place, preserved for generations. They capture history, and perhaps none was better at this than Rocky Mount photographer Charlie Killebrew.

Killebrew left a profound legacy that showcased his dedication to history, preserving the events of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He was a local photographer who worked as a photographer for the Rocky Mount Telegram and later established his own studio. Throughout the course of his lifetime, he recorded more than a half-million images of the area.

In his wake, he left a trail of history, documenting every facet of life in the Twin Counties area over a halfcentury. His lens recorded families and farms, events and landscapes. You can see the scope of his work at the UNC digital collection.

Killebrew was a 1938 graduate of Tarboro High School and served his country in the Army Air Corps, where he developed an interest in photography. In 1946, he became photographer for the Rocky Mount Telegram— which was then known as the Evening and Sunday Telegram. In 1952 he opened his own business, Killebrew Photography Studio.

Afterward, he began Carolina Aerial Mapping, firmly establishing himself as one of the first aerial mapping photographers in North Carolina, according to information from the Twin Counties Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2013.

Killebrew died at the age of 87. After his death, his collection was acquired by Braswell Memorial Library, with assistance from the Rocky Mount Community Foundation. The library staff then started the monumental task of digitizing these images and placing them online. These negatives spanned the course of his 49-year career.

However, the task required a great deal of time and expense. In addition to storing the negatives, the library recognized that it did not have the manpower to give the collection the undivided attention it required, and so they donated the collection to the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to information from the Rocky Mount Telegram

Stephen Fletcher, N.C. Collection Photographic Archivist at UNC, said in a prepared statement published in the Rocky Mount Telegram that the photographic collection has landed in a good place.

“Mr. Killebrew’s photographic legacy will have a good home in the North Carolina Collection,” he said. “Killebrew’s negatives join those of his contemporaries: Hugh Morton of Wilmington and Grandfather Mountain, Edward McCauley of the Burlington Daily Times-News, and Don Sturkey of the Charlotte Observer. The importance of the Killebrew collection is indisputable, a vital resource for visual researchers and historians of Rocky Mount, Eastern North Carolina, and the entire state. We are honored to be its caretakers.”

What Memories Do You Have of Rocky Mount?

From the grand columns of Stonewall Manor to the distinctive Rocky Mount Mills, Rocky Mount has a wealth of history and heritage that shines brightly throughout Eastern North Carolina.

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