Raeburn Flerlage, Photographer
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1915, Raeburn Flerlage first made his home on Chicago’s South Side in 1944, in the midst of the massive wave of African American migration to the city. Reflecting on the level of segregation and racial animosity that African Americans faced, Flerlage noted that, “For a White man to even visit the South Side of Chicago in those days was unusual. The first time I got off the el train at a platform on the South Side and started to walk down the street, the attendant in the ticket booth and the security guard on duty both warned me not to go down. I ignored them because I felt that their prejudice and fear were rooted in ignorance.”  Flerlage continued to ignore those racial boundaries, eventually finding his way deep into black Chicago’s blues scene.
As Flerlage put it in Chicago Blues, he had already “been kicking around on the fringes of the music business in Cincinnati and Chicago since 1939 [doing] promotional work for record stores, organizational promotion, concert reviews, music columns, lectures and magazine columns.”  But he held a variety of odd jobs over his first fifteen years in Chicago, and his first professional photography assignment was not until 1959—shooting blues artist Memphis Slim for a Folkway Records album cover—at which point he noted that “Photography started to pay a few bills.”  That assignment launched an exceptionally productive and varied career not only as a photographer, but as a record salesman and promoter, radio host, and lecturer. Flerlage would go on to photograph for record labels including Chess, Delmark, and Prestige, as well as supplying photographs to publications including Down Beat, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Chicago Scene, and the Chicago Daily News. 
Looking back “on nearly 60 years of living and working as a White man in Chicago’s Black community,” Flerlage said that “the word that springs most immediately to my mind is kindness. During a time of tremendous racial turmoil, in a city where some of the worst abuses were felt and some of the fiercest battles were fought, I was almost always treated with kindness and acceptance everywhere I went in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.”  The photography featured in Mapping the Blues is testament to that kindness and acceptance, as well as the turmoil, abuses, and battles Chicago’s African American community faced in the 1960s.
 Raeburn Flerlage, Chicago Blues as Seen From The Inside: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2000), xvi.
 Ibid., xii.
 Ibid., xiii-xiv.
 Ibid., xvi.
 Ibid., xv.