By Lynda Jones
Milwaukee lost one of its great ones on September 29, 2011 when renowned photojournalist Harry T. Kemp died at the age of 78 at his home in his sleep. Born June 10, 1933 in Racine, WI, he moved to Milwaukee at the age of 6. Kemp graduated from Lincoln High School in June of 1951 and enlisted into the US Air Force receiving an Honorable Discharge in 1955. He continued his education at various institutions studying journalism and photography at: Paul Quinn College in Waco, TX, MATC, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University, and the Downtown Center of Photography where he received a Certificate of Graduation.
His professional photojournalism career began in 1970 as a staff photographer at The Milwaukee Courier until 1976, he then moved as a staff photographer for the Milwaukee Community Journal (MCJ) and worked there full time until 1978. He taught photography for the Milwaukee Public School System from 1972 to 1974 at North Division, Hamilton and South Division High Schools. He later became an independent photojournalist contractor for The Milwaukee Courier, MCJ, The Milwaukee Times, El Conquistador, Spanish Times and the Spanish Journal.
According to his sister and photographer-partner Yvonne Kemp, Harry worked up until the day before he passed, taking photos at the Milwaukee Brewers’ game Wednesday when they clinched the field advantage. The following day the two of them were scheduled to meet at the Summerfest Grounds for the big rally, and when Harry did not show up Yvonne said she knew something was not quite right. She later found him at his home, and discovered that he had died peacefully in his sleep. He had suffered a stroke less than a year ago, and had suffered from high blood pressure and congestive heart disease.
His sister Yvonne also shared that she and her family were quite pleased that Harry had been fortunate to achieve some great milestones prior to his death such as attending and taking photos at the inauguration festivities. He also was celebrated with two community recognitions of his work within the past year, he was honored by the Historic African American Teachers (HAAT) organization and deemed ‘The Visual Griot’ and a special and unique award was designed for him, a 13 inch statue of a Bellows camera circa 1912-1930’s flush on top with a vintage base and brass plate. He was also recognized and honored at the MCJ Annual Anniversary Celebration this past August.
Kemp probably never thought he would make a career that would span over 50 years in photography when he received his first Brownie camera at the age of 12.
Fellow photographers have weighed in on the loss of Harry, photographers such as Robert Bell, Cy White, Pat Robinson, Kim Robinson and Cermakavelli Hibbler all say that he will be greatly missed, and that he served as an inspiration to all of them. Hibbler summed it up in the following words, “Well, Milwaukee has lost its own Gordon Parks”.
Kemp was preceded in death by: Harry P. Kemp-father, Roy H. Kemp-brother, Marie Gaines-mother, Lincoln Gaines-stepfather, and Eugene R. Kemp-brother.
Harry leaves to cherish his memory: Yvonne M. Kempsister, William H. (Gloria) Kemp-brother, Jo Anne E. Kemp-sister, Roy Freeman (Diane)-nephew all from Milwaukee. Ethel (Otis) Sheardaunt of Southfield MI, Marla Gibbs-cousin, Jessie Kempuncle from Los Angeles, CA and a host of friends and colleagues.
A community memorial was planned for Harry on Friday, Oct. 7 at 5:00 pm at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society at 2620 W. Center St.