Elmer W. Hunt: Pembroke’s photographer


UNCP’s library is seeking information about photos in its collection

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Elmer Hunt Photography Collection is an entire library.

When donated to UNC Pembroke in 2002 by Elmer Hunt Jr., the collection consisted of 53,678 negatives. A Pembroke native, the late Elmer Hunt was a school teacher and professional photographer - a very prolific one.

In 1969, he became UNC Pembroke’s staff photographer. The collection reveals an entire community during a 30-year period from the 1950s through the 1980s, highlighting parades, fairs, civic clubs, school groups, stores, buildings, landmark events and more.

Digitized and cataloged, the Elmer Hunt Photography Collection is archived in the Special Collections section of the Mary Livermore Library. The library had the negatives professionally scanned and purchased a computer to store digital images with software to perform keyword searches.

Now, the library needs words to go with the photos. With a lobby display and a series of special events planned, they want to know: “Who are these people?”

A visit to the library on July 15 found Hubbard Lowery, a Pembroke building contractor, pouring over the photos. One photo, that he dated to 1960, is of Lowery and members of his ninth grade Pembroke High School baseball team.

“I’m the one with the bowtie,” he said. “My mother bought it for me. I hated it, but she made me wear it.

“Wow! That brings back memories,” Lowery said. “I had forgotten about that picture.”

Lowery identified his teammates, including Elmer Hunt Jr., and fondly recalled how, as a left-handed batter, he could hit Ray Brayboy’s curve ball. Brayboy is in UNCP’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

The quest for names, dates and places began on July 3 at Lumbee Homecoming when the public was invited to come into the library and identify several notebooks filled with photographs. It worked, said Dean of the University Library Dr. Elinor Foster.

“It’s a big project with many photos going back to the 1950s,” Dr. Foster said. “We got many responses to our questions about the dates, names and places of the photos. There is a lot of interest in the photos.”


The library display at the circulation desk will change. Special events for the public include:

  • September 29 – during Pembroke Day (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.)
  • November 2 – a special viewing event for Lumbee Elders
  • January 18 – a special viewing event for area churches
  • March 15 – a special viewing event for retired educators
  • July 2 – during Lumbee Homecoming

The year long schedule of events is sponsored by the Friends of the Library.  Other friends have helped too.

Several individuals have volunteered on the project including Lillian Brewington, retired special collections librarian, and Dr. Linda Oxendine, retired chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department. Librarians Carlene Cummings and Robert Wolf have also pitched in.


Brewington has worked on the Elmer Hunt Collection since it came to the library and helped acquire it. She retired in the meantime and continues to work on it as a volunteer.

“I have enjoyed this project, and I want to see it completed,” said the Special Collections veteran. “It’s a big project and we spent a lot of time organizing it so that people may come in to search it by names and so forth.”

Like many Pembroke residents, Brewington has personal connections to the Elmer Hunt legacy.

“When I was married in 1963, Mr. Hunt took the wedding photos,” she said. “I could not find the negatives.”

Brewington said parts of the collection remain in the community. The community is very excited about viewing the collection, she said.

“People have already come in, and there is a lot of excitement about it,” Brewington said. “I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I like what I see.”

Dr. Linda Oxendine, former chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department, obtained the collection for the University from Elmer ‘Bill’ Hunt Jr.

“Bill just called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted the collection,” Dr. Oxendine said. “He was cleaning out the attic.”

What Dr. Oxendine believed were a few thousand negatives turned out to be a far larger collection. She turned it over to Brewington and the library.

“We started digitizing them, but it was overwhelming,” Dr. Oxendine said. “I was shocked.”

The value of the collection was something the scholar understood thoroughly. Elmer Hunt Sr. took her wedding pictures too.

“Back then, he was the only photographer in Pembroke and he was wonderfully generous about taking pictures when asked,” Dr. Oxendine said. “He took my wedding pictures, put them in an album and gave them to us for a wedding present.

“It is a wonderful gift from Bill,” she said. “We can’t thank him enough for saving these negatives.”

Hunt died in 1987 at the age of 67. Before joining the University in 1969, he taught at Magnolia School in the Saddletree community, north of Lumberton, N.C.

Born in Sellers, S.C., Hunt took part in the Normandy invasion during World War II. He was with an anti-tank unit that also joined in the African and Sicilian campaigns.

A self-taught photographer, he paid 49 cents for his first camera that included two rolls of film. He set up his own darkroom later by throwing a rug over a window to keep light out.

A 1953 UNCP graduate, he captured the life of a University for many years. His signature line was: “You set them up, and I’ll shoot them.”