George H. Scurlock, 85, a commercial photographer who documented the life and sweep of 20th-century black Washington in the storied U Street studio founded by his father, died Aug. 10 of lung cancer at Chevy Chase Manor Care. He had been a lifelong resident of the District until this year.
Mr. Scurlock and his older brother, Robert, were scions of one of Washington's most famous African American photographers, Addison Scurlock, who founded Scurlock Studio: Fine Photography in 1911. For more than three-quarters of a century, Scurlock images of weddings, social events, religious gatherings, sporting events, school pictures and business activities captured the rich and vibrant life of what has been called Washington's secret city, the African American community that went about its daily activities largely invisible to the white majority.
Operating out of a spacious studio on the second floor of a building at Ninth and U streets NW, Scurlock's also was known for its portraits of African American notables who either lived in Washington or visited, including poets Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Countee Cullen, physician Charles Drew, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marion Anderson, Billie Holliday and Lena Horne. For years in black Washington, having one's portrait hanging in Scurlock's window was a sign for all to see that the person had arrived socially.
Scurlock photos also recorded momentous events in the city's history, including a two-page spread in Life magazine documenting violence and chaos on 14th Street during the 1968 riots.
As youngsters, Mr. Scurlock and his brother apprenticed with their father, quickly becoming accomplished photographers in their own right. They also inherited their father's fierce pride in the work they did, work of such quality that it approached the status of art.
Skilled in all areas of photography, Mr. Scurlock developed a special expertise in oil-tinted portraits, a painstaking process that required a technician's focus on detail and an artist's eye for color and composition.
Photographic portraits that bear the George Scurlock name include Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Robert C. Weaver and former D.C. mayor Walter Washington. Many of his portraits grace the homes of longtime Washingtonians.
George Hardison Scurlock was born at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington on Aug. 19, 1919. A 1976 profile in The Washington Post quoted friends who recalled that as a youngster, he and his friend Mercer Ellington and a couple of buddies filled their red wagons with sand from Meridian Hill Park and built a miniature golf course in the Scurlock back yard. The boys charged 3 cents to play their course.
He graduated from Dunbar High School as a member of the Class of '36, which also included former U.S. senator Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), sociologist Adelaide Hill Cromwell and former District housing official James Banks. He graduated from Howard University in 1941 and for many years was the official Howard photographer.
In 1948, Mr. Scurlock and his brother established the Capitol School of Photography, with a special interest in teaching photography to black veterans of World War II. Among the students, in addition to veterans, was Jacqueline Bouvier, before she became Mrs. John F. Kennedy. The school closed in 1952.
Mr. Scurlock continued to operate Scurlock Studio after the death of his father in 1964.
His brother had established his own photography business, Custom Craft Studio, in 1952. In the early 1970s, the two brothers combined the studios under the name Custom Craft.
When Robert Scurlock died in 1994, Mr. Scurlock decided to close the business and begin full time what he had been doing part time since the early 1950s: selling cars. An outgoing sort who never forgot a name, he was a sales associate for Anacostia Chrysler Plymouth.
At his memorial service, an old friend recalled that if he encountered someone who needed a car, he'd find a "cream puff," park it in front of the person's house and hand over the keys. "Drive it a couple of days. Tell me what you think," he'd say. He invariably made the sale, which accounts, perhaps, for his selection to the Chrysler National Sales Honor Society. He retired in 1996.
Mr. Scurlock's marriage to Natalie Tate Scurlock ended in divorce.
His second wife, Joyce Alexander Scurlock, died in 1999.
Survivors include three children from the first marriage, George Scurlock Jr. of Hartford, Conn., and Addison Scurlock and Jacqueline Colbert, both of Silver Spring; two stepdaughters from the second marriage, Ulonda Banks Shamwell of Chevy Chase and April Alexander of St. Petersburg, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
More than 50,000 images from the Scurlock family photographic collection are housed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.