In 1990 and 1992 I made this series of portraits of individuals more than seventy years old and living independently in and around Durham, North Carolina. The attached texts were written by Nicholas Sholley from interviews he conducted with each person. My portraits were published in 1997 by W. W. Norton in Old and On Their Own with additional photographs by Thomas Roma of elderly in Brooklyn, New York, and text by Robert Coles.
Raymond Corn was born in 1917 in Cherokee, North Carolina. His father was a Baptist minister, and his mother was a laundress. The oldest of three children, Raymond grew up in Asheville, N.C. At the age of ten, he began training to box. When he had time free from Hill Street High in Asheville, Raymond boxed all over North Carolina. Because of the Depression, he stopped after two years at Junior College to work jobs at the grocery store and the drug store in Asheville, N.C.
At one hundred and sixty-five pounds, Raymond fought lightweight officially, but he was paired off with all classes from his own weight up, including light/heavy and heavyweight. At times, Raymond hit and dodged men who weighed almost a hundred pounds more than he did. (“I could punch as hard and move out of the way of anything they threw.”) He fought professionally across the state and also began training other boxers in 1939. While fighting in West Jefferson, N.C., another boxer struck the back of Raymond’s head while he was down, dislocating his neck. Due to recurring problems with this injury, Raymond retired from boxing and training boxers in 1952. Jack Dempsey attended his last professional bout.
During his time as a boxer, Raymond also sang bass in a choir of fifteen men that visited different Baptist congregations every Sunday. Radio broadcasts carried their programs across the state. In quartets and quintets, he would travel to Masonic clubs.
After 1952, Raymond began working under contract on a variety of jobs: roofing, framing, tiling, plumbing. Mechanically inclined, he would fix anything from a washing machine to an automobile. He moved to Durham in 1960 as an independent contractor and continues working to this day, though he no longer lays down sewage pipe or tacks tar paper on roofs.
Raymond also helps out at the local food mission, gives rides to those who need transportation, and runs errands for others. On the dashboard and on the backseat shelf of his car, he keeps small toy figurines which he started collecting to give to children.
Raymond is seen here with his car, outside the Durham Urban Ministries Center. (written in 1992)