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Richard S. Orton Collection

Identifier: A-0369

Scope and Contents

The Richard S. Orton Collection consists of the photographs from two exhibits created by Orton and a series of 16 oral history interviews about African Americans in Nacogdoches County. The photographs capture authentic interactions between teachers and school children at several schools in Austin (1986-1990) and scenes of faith, family and life at Upshaw family reunions at County Line, an African American freedom colony in Nacogdoches County (1988-1998). The exhibit label text which appeared under each photograph in "The Upshaws of County Line" is written on the back of each photograph in pencil. All the photographs are black and white.


  • Event: Donated 10/9/2008

Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research. Researchers must use gloves when handling the photographs.

Conditions Governing Use

Richard S. Orton retains copyright to all the photographs in the collection.

Biographical / Historical

Richard Orton was born in Nacogdoches, a great, great grandson of Sidney Maury and Louisa Timberlake Orton, who arrived in Nacogdoches from Tennessee in 1839. His family moved to West Texas in the early 1950’s where he grew up and went to school in Midland.

After graduating from the University of North Texas in 1968 with a B.A. in Music he served two years in the United States Peace Corps in Liberia. After the Peace Corps he moved to Austin where he lived for 36 years before returning to Nacogdoches in 2007. While in Austin he earned a M.M. in Musicology from the University of Texas at Austin, produced several summer music festivals, worked fifteen years in the field of sexual assault prevention and crisis services for the Austin Rape Crisis Center, the Child Assault Prevention Project (which he co-founded), and the State of Texas.

In the early and mid-80’s he developed an interest in photography and spent three years documenting life in three elementary schools in Austin. In the late 80’s, after becoming acquainted with the Upshaw family in the freedom colony of County Line in northwest Nacogdoches County, he began a project documenting the community’s history through photographs and oral history. That project resulted in the publication of his book, ‘The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family’, by the University of North Texas Press in 2014 after twenty-five years of preparation. The book won a best book award from the East Texas Historical Association in 2015. Several of the images in the book first appeared in ‘Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow’ by Thad Sitton and James Conrad published in 2005 by the University of Texas Press, a book to which he also contributed oral histories from three freedom colonies.

In 2003 he became a photographer for the Texas House of Representatives, a position he maintained through the 2007 session.

In Nacogdoches, he is active on the boards of the Friends of the Visual Arts and the African American Heritage Project and continues to work on photography projects.


0.75 Cubic Feet


This collection consists of 66 items. There are 42 photographs and 2 exhibit texts dispersed across 5 folders and housed in a clamshell box, 6 photographs in an oversize bundle, and 16 oral histories in an audiovisual cabinet. The collection is organized at the item and folder level.

Guide to the Richard S. Orton Collection
Kyle Ainsworth
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the East Texas Research Center Repository