Robert A. Lanier was born in Memphis in 1938, and has spent most of his life in the city. His contributions to the Memphis law community began after he received his Bachelor of Science from Memphis State University (now U of M) and his law degree from the University of Mississippi, in 1960 and 1962 respectively. He was a member of the Memphis law firm of Armstrong, McAdden, Allen, Braden and Goodman from 1964-1968, as well as Farris, Hancock, Gilman, Branan, Lanier & Hellen in 1968. After his stints at these two practices, he became the director of the Memphis & Shelby County Junior Bar Association in 1969-1970, as well as secretary of that same organization in 1971. During this time, he was appointed as a special judge at both Circuit and General Sessions Courts, and the Memphis City Court. He served as a Circuit Court judge from 1982 until his retirement in 2004. Lanier also served as an Adjunct Professor at the Memphis State University School of Law (U of M) in 1981, and he was a member of the Shelby County Republican Executive Committee from 1970-1972. He was involved in the Memphis Humane Association and co-founded the Tennessee Humane Association. Starting out as director of the former in 1972, he eventually became president of both, in Memphis in 1974 and as the state’s from 1975-1977.
Lanier has a robust history of involvement in civic organizations in Memphis – he was a founding member of the Lawyers’ Journal Club of Memphis in 1979, and was a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission from 1977 to 1982, having been appointed by former Governor Ray Blanton to a five-year term. He was also a founder of Memphis Heritage Inc., a historical preservation group still active today. He is the author of several books about Memphis history, including In the Courts (1969), Memphis in the Twenties (1979), and The History of the Memphis & Shelby County Bar (1981), as well as the European history The Prisoner of Durazzo. It is from his association with Memphis’ history that Lanier’s collection of photographs can be best understood.
The photographs Lanier has donated are almost certainly a part of Lanier’s personal interest with Memphis history and historic preservation. The photographs of the Robert Lanier Collection are primarily concerned with documenting Memphis’ streets and urban and public spaces. In addition to photographing Memphis attractions, such as Court Square or Overton Park, Lanier has also taken many photographs of Memphis buildings and storefronts. There is an obvious interest in how buildings such as the Exchange Building, the Lincoln American Tower and the Tennessee Club all fit into Memphis’ urban fabric, and his commitment to these subjects and others over time proves an intention to document these spaces for posterity, to show how Memphis has both changed and remained the same. His attention to the less well-known buildings of Memphis, the small Midtown houses or neglected or vacant properties, is also important in creating a representative portrait of the urban environment. Along the same lines, Lanier liked to show sites in transition, soon to disappear, as seen in the many demolition and construction sites around the city – a recognition that the documentation of the absence of a building can be just as historically significant as that of one still standing.
- Information taken from the collection finding aid, by Victoria Grey, with additional information provided by Robert A. Lanier.
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