As both a freelance and newspaper photographer, Rushing captured many of what are now the most familiar and beloved images of Walker County in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
Rushing had depended on the library in the early years of his career to help him pursue his interest in photography and art.
His daughter, Joyce Smith, said he came from a large family and could not afford to attend college.
“He studied there and at the Birmingham library and pretty much taught himself,” Smith said.
Rushing remained a loyal library patron for the rest of his life.
He struck up a friendship with Colleen Miller, the longtime director of the Jasper Public Library. It was Miller to whom he entrusted a significant portion of his body of work more than two decades ago.
Rushing, who was then in his 70s, was experiencing a decline in health and soon moved to Mississippi to be closer to his daughter.
He did not live long enough to see his photographs become wildly popular.
As word about the historical photos spread over the years, the library fielded dozens of requests related to Rushing’s work. Copies of the images soon made their way outside the library’s walls and began appearing everywhere from public buildings to publications.
The name of the photographer, however, was often overlooked.
The Rushing collection, which now includes more than 80 prints and additional undeveloped negatives, tells the story of Walker County through the eyes of the common man as well as powerful politicians and celebrities.
President Franklin Roosevelt, journalist Ernie Pyle and a young George “Goober” Lindsey are among the familiar faces captured on film by Rushing.
“I was astounded the first time I saw it (the collection),” said Sandra Underwood, director of the Carl Elliott Regional Library System and the Jasper Public Library. “I realized what a treasure it was immediately because those photographs had been lost to the society here in Jasper and Walker County. No one knew they existed, and they were fantastic.”
Underwood recently began an effort to digitize the Rushing collection and make it available online through AlabamaMosaic, a repository of digital materials on Alabama's history, culture, places and people.
The past six months have been spent conducting research on Rushing and the subjects of his photographs as well as copyright law.
The next phase of the project, aquiring a high quality scanner and converting the material to a digital format, is set to get underway by the fall.
Within the next year, Rushing’s work will be a mouse click away for schoolchildren and others interested in it for historical purposes.
The library has several other collections of photographes and fragile materials that will eventually become part of the project as well.
“Historically, libraries have preserved these type of things in-house with limited access. By using technology to preserve it, it makes it much more available,” Underwood said.
Today marks the beginning of National Library Week, an observance sponsored by the American Library Association. This year’s theme is “Communities matter @ your library.”