Holiday inn

Candid Camera: The Photographer Who Captured History and Defended Holiday Inn – 2021 – News & Media – Newsroom

Mark Stansbury with Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn. All photos courtesy of Mark Stansbury Sr.

When the first Holiday Inn opened in 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee, it broke the mold.

He redefined what a hotel could be – what it should be: a high-quality place, with amenities and perks that travelers struggled to find back then (no extra charges for young people). children!), but all at an affordable price for the average family.

But the brand was also, in many ways, a gateway to advancement in business, society and travel. It was one of the first hotel brands to take the plunge, the first to market a loyalty program, and the first major brand to offer franchise opportunities to black Americans, including the first fully black-owned franchise hotel in Tuskegee, Alabama. When this property first opened in the 1970s, Holiday Inn’s Community Relations Manager at the time was there to capture the big moment. His name is Mark Stansbury Sr., and his life and legacy are as revolutionary as the hotel brand he has worked for for over a decade.

At 79, Stansbury still works and lives in Memphis and has just published a book, Through the lens of Mark Stansbury*, about his expansive and pioneering career in capturing – and making – history.

Stansbury’s career began in 1958. The following year a new passion for photography sent him on a journey that crossed the paths of civil rights leaders, presidents and politicians and an extended stay in a hotel company in growing Memphis-based Holiday Inn.

“I was 18 when I started working weekends at WDIA-AM 1070 in Memphis, Tennessee,” says Stansbury. WDIA was the first station in the country to broadcast all-black programming, and over 60 years later, Stansbury still hosts a Sunday gospel show at the station.

In 1959, the station sent him to a journalism conference in Lincoln, Missouri, where he picked up a 4×5 camera and fell in love with photography.

“When I was little nobody took pictures,” Stansbury says. He was born in 1942 and raised in a segregated America. “Black people didn’t have cameras back then, so this was the first time I was around cameras and using one.” When he could no longer afford to attend a journalism institution, the student wrote to Ernest Withers, one of the only prominent black photographers of the time, and asked if he could be his. apprentice. Tourniquet accepted.

It was a life-changing mentorship for Stansbury as he watched the civil rights movement unfold before his eyes and behind the lens of his camera.

“A man named James Meredith was the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi. He was shot dead during a civil rights march in Hernando [Mississippi], and Dr. [Martin Luther] King came down about a week later to continue this walk towards Jackson, and I was there to take pictures, “Stansbury says.” During this time, I was so passionate about photography, and I was going to do anywhere – I even had a police scanner in my car. “

Mark Stansbury still lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee, where Holiday Inn was founded.

Stansbury also remembers photographing some of the biggest names of the time.

“Muhammad Ali, the Jacksons, the Beatles when they came to Memphis, I remember I was just one of two photographers allowed in the lodge,” he says. Stansbury has photographed five sitting US Presidents during his career – Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and then President Barack Obama when he was a senator. Stansbury says Obama was particularly poignant because he never thought he would see a black president during his lifetime.

But it is the photograph he took on April 5, 1968, that will stay with him forever.

The night before, Stansbury watched the news in horror upon hearing the report of Dr King’s murder.

“The next day my wife was planning to throw a birthday party for me, but I asked her if that could wait. I drove to the Lorraine Motel, and there were no tapes or barriers. police. the building and the room where James Earl Ray was standing when he shot Dr King, “says Stansbury.” I took a photo from that vantage point – of the balcony where Dr King was standing when the bullet hit him. ”

Stansbury says he is grateful that he had the chance to record history – even something as painful as the death of Dr King.

In 1969, Mark Stansbury got the chance to try something different. He accepted a position of Community Relations Manager for Holiday Inn. Several years later, he would go down in history by being elected president of the Memphis chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

“I was one of the first minorities hired by the company [Holiday Inn] it wasn’t pushing a broom or a mop, ”Stansbury recalls. A sad reality, but one that did not affect Stansbury’s feelings about the company and the culture.

“I have fond memories of my work there,” says Stansbury. “No one called me the N word – which was a unique experience for that period, and I give Mr. Kemmons Wilson a lot of credit. Stansbury says he often interacted with the late founder of Holiday Inn.

“Mr. Wilson was not a racist, to put it bluntly. He was a good man, and water runs out of his head, as the old saying goes, that’s why I was treated well in the world. ‘business.” One of Wilson’s fondest memories of Stansbury was when Stansbury and his wife had their first child.

“Mr. Wilson and his wife came over to the house and brought a silver platter as a gift. It was something he really didn’t have to do, but he did it because it is. the kind of man he was. ”

Stansbury also remembers that Wilson wanted to prevent discrimination in the company – even by enlisting Stansbury’s help.

“A black organization once hosted a big convention at the Holiday Inn in Gary, Indiana. It was in the 70’s, and they sent me in as a company representative to make sure the hotel management treated guests and attendees with respect. Said Stansbury. “But all the guests were treated well and there were no problems.”

Stansbury’s reputation and talent as a photographer also came in handy.

“I have a funny story, I remember when President Nixon came to a Holiday Inn, and I took a picture of Mr. Wilson looking inside the President’s limo. I got a note. from Mr. Wilson saying: ‘Thank you for your attention in sending me the pictures when I was looking in the President’s limo. ”

Listening to Stansbury’s stories about Wilson and Holiday Inn, it comes as no surprise to those who knew Kemmons Wilson best.

“It fills me and my family with warmth and pride to hear Mr. Stansbury’s memories of my father and the business he founded. This also rings true for the man we knew and loved, ”says Spence Wilson, Sr., Kemmons Wilson’s son and Chairman of the Board of Kemmons Wilson Companies. “Our father believed in people, he believed in genuine relationships and doing the right thing. He was truly the Nation’s Inn Keeper – welcoming to everyone.”

Today, Holiday Inn is part of the IHG Hotel & Resorts family, with more than 1,200 Holiday Inn properties around the world.

Stansbury retains the letters and notes of praise he received while working at the Holiday Inn, looking back on his career with both pragmatism and pride. His book covers the years he worked at Holiday Inn with personal stories and photos.

“Holiday Inn was one of the biggest employers in Memphis, and I feel lucky about my experience there, I really enjoyed working for Kemmons Wilson.”

Although Stansbury has shared stories about his life several times over the years, this is the first time everything will be documented, and he admits it has been a long and difficult road to get here.

“I’ve received so much encouragement from the people in my life, from people I grew up with and others I don’t even know,” Stansbury says. “I just want to share what I’ve learned along the way with others. “

Stansbury’s book can be purchased online by sending an email to mstnsbry@gmail.com.


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