Aaron Swanson’s Portrait of William Norris Moore, Denver’s First Black High School Graduate

Aaron Swanson arrived in Denver in 1885 as pastor of the Swedish M. E. Church.  In the spring of 1886, having resigned his position at the church, Swanson took over C. C. Wright’s photo studio in Central City, Colorado.  He worked briefly with Morton E. Chase, as Chase & Swanson in both Central City and Denver. His brother, John, was employed in the Denver studio. Swanson married Cora Johnson on November 24, 1887.  Sadly, Aaron Swanson died of consumption at his home in Denver on July 12, 1888.  

Aaron Swanson, photographer. Portrait of William Norris Moore, albumen silver print, 1887. Denver Public Library Special Collections.

Swanson photographed William Norris Moore (1872-1920), the first Black graduate of Denver High School, in 1887.  In his senior portrait, Moore stands in front of a painted studio backdrop of a nature scene.   Fashionably dressed, Moore wears a morning coat, checkered pants, watch fob and holds a walking stick.  His derby hat rests on a pillar.  

Moore spent the last years of his life in Omaha, Nebraska, where he worked a series of jobs including  waiter, porter, and janitor.  He died March 7, 1920 after a long illness, leaving a wife.