Photojournalist Don Rutledge dies

A photojournalist known by Southern Baptists for personalizing missions is best known in the larger society as photographer for Black Like Me, a groundbreaking book by a white journalist who traveled through the segregated South passing as a black man in 1959.

By Robert Dilday

Donald Rutledge, a renowned photographer whose images of mission activities are familiar to Baptists around the world, died Feb. 19 at 82.

Rutledge’s work was published in magazines and books around the globe, winning more than 400 awards. He worked for the Black Star photo agency in New York for more than 30 years, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign (now International) Mission Board and Home (now North American) Mission Board.

don rutledge photographerHe began his career as a photographer for Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin in 1959. The book chronicled the experiences of Griffin, who was white, as he traveled the Deep South disguised as a black man. Rutledge joined Griffin, whose skin was darkened by medication and makeup, on the journey.

Stanley Leary, a Baptist freelance photographer who worked closely with Rutledge, once said his photographs “concentrate on the emotions of people.”

“No matter where you are located in the world, people’s emotions stand above language and cultures,” said Leary. “These small moments of expression communicate across our language barriers …. [Rutledge’s] style of photography was not bound by words or cultures.”

Survivors include his wife, Lucy Rutledge; two sons, Mark and Craig; five granddaughters; and a brother. A memorial service will be held Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. at Winfree Memorial Baptist Church in Midlothian, Va. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Winfree Memorial Church to support global missions.