James D. ‘JD’ Howard, Marine Corps veteran and photographer, dies at 82
Baltimore Sun February 7, 2024
(Tribune News Service) — James D. “JD” Howard, a Marine Corps veteran who became an internationally known photographer for the AFRO American Newspapers, died Jan. 29 of complications from dementia at the Perry Point Veterans Administration Hospital in Cecil County. The West Baltimore resident was 82.
“Ever since he came home from Vietnam, JD has been truly one of our great heroes. He set the standard for what our generation should be doing,” said friend of 50 years and former state Sen. and Del. Clarence “Tiger” Davis, regional coordinator for the National Association of Black Veterans.
“He is a man who is known worldwide for his photography. The Congressional Black Caucus hired JD to do their photography and he brought along with him young proteges whose work he respected.”
James Dennis “JD” Howard was the son of James Cruter Howard, a Navy shipyard mechanic, and Eliza Peed Howard, a nursing assistant. He was born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, where he graduated in 1960 from the Booker T. Washington High School.
He played guard on the recreation center football team and won the Virginia Golden Gloves welterweight championship in 1957.
The second of six children, he was “known for his bravery, athletic skill, and always testing his limits,” wrote a son, James D. Howard Jr., of Tokyo, in a biographical profile of his father. “In the summers, he and his brothers would go back to North Carolina each year from Norfolk to earn money for school supplies by working with their uncles harvesting tobacco.”
Mr. Howard enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to Camp Lejeune, where he was a member of the boxing team.
In 1962, he married the former Geraldine Stevenson, and three years later after the birth of two children, he was deployed to Vietnam.
Under enemy fire, Mr. Howard was wounded and received the Purple Heart.
After being discharged, he returned to Baltimore and joined the police department. When his wife needed surgery and he “lacked sufficient tenure to qualify for insurance,” his son wrote, he reenlisted in the Marines and was sent to Vietnam, for a second tour of duty, where he attained the rank of staff sergeant.
While in Vietnam, he learned photography and “documenting what he saw in the field and taking pictures during breaks. Gradually, he discovered he had a knack for capturing the most essential visual elements of people and places and using them to tell stories,” his son wrote.
Discharged in 1970, Mr. Howard opened a small photography studio behind the old S. & N. Katz Jewelry store at 105 N. Charles St.
Not content to just sit in his studio waiting for business to come his way, he instead made inroads in the city’s African American churches, where he covered weddings, christenings and funerals, among other events.
He expanded his work to city schools, photographing graduation ceremonies, and into politics, where he became the official photographer for various candidates.
He shot the National Black Beautician Convention and covered the Bronner Brothers International Beauty Show in Atlanta.
His work was published in The Baltimore Sun, Jet and Ebony magazines, and for decades until retiring in 2015, he was a staff photographer for the AFRO.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, he documented construction projects such as the Baltimore Metro, Fort McHenry Tunnel and Harborplace.
His work for the AFRO took him far from Baltimore. He photographed the inauguration of Barack Obama, the funeral of Nelson Mandela and the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2015.
His work was featured in an exhibition at the Jubilee Arts Center in West Baltimore.
In 2019, his wife told the AFRO: “JD is a strong-willed individual who makes up his mind to do something and doesn’t stop until it is complete.
“He has always been very passionate about photography,” she said. “What I love most about his work is that he made photography work for him and his family.”
“JD was always trying to make life better for everybody and he did it in a quiet way,” Mr. Davis said. “He led by example.”
Mr. Howard’s wife, who was an administrative assistant, died in 2020.
Funeral services for Mr. Howard will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the March Funeral Home at 4300 Wabash Ave.
In addition to his son, he is survived by another son, Lester Howard, of West Baltimore; two brothers, Theodore Howard, of Washington, and Victor Howard, of Norfolk; two sisters, Phyllis Dogget, of Randallstown, and Kay Collins, of Virginia Beach, Virginia; and two grandchildren. His daughter, Denise Howard-Johnson, died in 2016.
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