By Juan Robinson,2014-03-27 19:35
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    The African Americans: Black History through Photography

The Early Photographs

    Slavery, the Civil War, and Emancipation

    African Americans in the North: the End of the Century

    The Rural South

    Leaders Emerge


    The 1940s and 1950s

    The Civil Rights Movement

    The 1970s and 1980s


Images 1- 8

    Photography first came to America‟s shores in 1839, long after the savagery of slavery had been inflicted on America‟s blacks. The Eastman House collection has a number of photographs of African Americans taken in

    the 1850s and 1860s with the early daguerreotype and ambrotype photographic processes. It would appear from these photographs, by the style of dress, etc., that the “sitters” were free African Americans, most likely from the North and, probably, from the middle class, since photographers‟ fees, though minimal by today‟s standards, were not inexpensive in their time. An interesting series of photographs of African Americans from this period appears in the Studio Record Book maintained by Josiah Johnson Hawes who, with Albert Sands Southworth, operated one of the most famous American portrait studios in Boston. Among the small copy prints pasted in Hawes‟s Record Book are a number of black sitters. Three of these are of the same man, J.J. Johnson of Brattle

    Street. Hawes‟s numbering system would indicate that Mr. Johnson visited the studio for a portrait session at least twice during September 1865. The photographic record, presented through the images in this catalogue, also traces several recurring themes from the African American experience. One of these is the importance of religion. It is fitting that one of the earliest images is a daguerreotype of a minister.

1. Southworth & Hawes,

    Unidentified African American man, ca. 1850s

2. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified African American woman wearing white gloves, ca. 1855

3. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified African American man, ca. 1850s

4. Unidentified photographer

    Three African American men

5. Unidentified photographer

    Portrait of an unidentified African American woman

6. Unidentified photographer

    Portrait of an unidentified African American woman, ca. 1850

7. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified man, ca. 1860s

8. Josiah Johnson Hawes

    J.J Johnson (3 Views), ca. September 1865


9. William R. Pywell

    Slave Pen, Alexandria, Virginia, August 1862

    In the very important Civil War photographic document Gardner‟s Photographic Sketchbook of the War, the inhumanness of slavery can be sensed in William R. Pywell‟s photograph of an empty slave pen in Alexandria, Virginia, taken in August 1862. One can envision it as it had been, crowded with men, women and children 5“defenseless in their wretchedness,” each to be sold, as Frederick Douglass wrote, “like a beast in the market.”

    Two of the other recurring themes developed through the photographs in this kit trace back to these early days: the drive for education and the patriotic service of African Americans in the nation‟s armed forces.

Images 10, 11

    A group of photographs show slave children who were released by Union troops. Two of these show a brother and sister who were freed from their owner, Thomas White of Mathews County, Virginia, by Captain Riley of ththe 6 U. S. 0.1. on February 20, 1864, and taken to the Society of Friends in Philadelphia to be educated at the Orphan‟s Shelter. The cartes-de-visite were sold to raise funds to educate the children. The captions on the photographs explain that the children‟s mother had been “beaten, branded and sold at auction because she was kind to Union Soldiers.” She had been taken away to be sold in Richmond only seven days before the children were freed. Their story, when placed next to the Pywell photograph, puts the pain of the slave market into chilling perspective.

10. P.F. Cooper

    As We Found Them, 1864

11. P.F. Cooper

    As They Are Now, 1864

Images 12,13

    The other pair of photographs show four slave children who were freed and brought North by abolitionists to emphasize the plight of slaves. The proceeds from sale of the photographs were to be used to educate freed slaves who had come under the jurisdiction of the Union Army in the New Orleans area. A caption on one of these photographs points out that the children had been turned out of a hotel in Philadelphia because of their “color.” This comment was a telling statement about racist attitudes in the North regardless of abolitionist sentiment and the war itself.

12. M.H. Kimball, Rebecca

    Augusta and Rosa, 1863

13. James Earl McClees

    These Children, 1863

14. Taylor and Huntington

    A Group of “Contrabands”, ca. 1863

    The next three photographs (14, 15, 16), two in stereo form, relate to the service of African Americans with the Union Army. One of the stereo views, “A group of „Contrabands „” shows several runaway slaves who joined the Union troops. The name, “Contra bands” was given to these runaways by Union General Benjamin Butler. A caption on the back of this photograph, written a quarter century after it was taken, said that “these Negroes

    were employed by the Government as teamsters, laborers, etc.”

15. John Reekie

    Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, April 1865

    Another image from Gardner‟s Photographic Sketchbook of the War shows a group of African Americans on one of the more grisly labor details: It is called Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia and was taken in April


16. Alexander Gardner

    A Wounded Negro, Culpepper, 1862

    The other stereo view, taken by Alexander Gardner himself, shows “A Wounded Negro, Culpepper Virginia.” Made in 1862, it is one of the earliest such pictures produced.

17. Randall

    Sojourner Truth, 1864

    The final photograph in the section relating to emancipation starts the thread throughout the kit of the struggle for civil rights. It is a portrait of Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who took her special name and crisscrossed the country speaking out for the freedom of her people. In 1867, at a Convention of the Equal Rights Association, thprior to the passage of the 14 Amendment to the United States Constitution, this valiant woman spoke not only for her race but also for her sex: “There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.” On the carte-de-visite portrait

    of Sojourner Truth there appears the phrase “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.” This refers to her need to sell copies of her photographs to raise funds with which to live.


Images 18- 23

    A series of photographs, reminiscent of the several early portraits, dominate the next section of the exhibition. They are all drawn from cities in the north or the Midwest and, with one exception, are of unidentified men and women. In photographic terms, they are albumen prints in either carte-de-visite or cabinet card formats or tintypes. They span the decades between the 1860s and 1890s. Those for which the photographer‟s studio is

    known are from Hartford, Connecticut, Troy, New York, and Alliance, Ohio. The identified portrait is Fred S. Philips of Salem, New Jersey, taken by Pach Brothers, a prominent New York City studio. As in the earlier daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, the sitters appear well-dressed and at ease posing in the photographer‟s studio.

18. Prescott and White

    Unidentified woman, ca. 1860s

19. Christopher C. Schoonmaker

    Unidentified man, ca. 1860s

20. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified woman, 1879

21. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified man, ca. 1880s

22. Pach Brothers

    Fred S. Phifips, Salem, New Jersey, ca. 1880s

23. Lorin E. Miller

    Unidentified woman, ca. 1880s

Images 24, 25

    An interesting pair of photographs are gem tintypes, each of an unidentified black man that appears in a white family album. Apparently these young men were servants and were photographed for the albums as part of the family group

24. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified man in album, ca. 1860s

25. Unidentified photographer

    Unidentified man in album, ca. 1860s

26. Unidentified photographer

    L. Hayden, Boston (Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives), 1873

Another photographic album in the Museum‟s collection shows all of the members of the Massachusetts House

    of Representatives in 1873. L. Hayden of Boston appears as the only Black among the State‟s elected officials portrayed in the album.

27. Alexander Gardner

U.S. Overland stage starting for Denver from Hays City, ca. 1867

    Several other photographs are chronologically part of this period but form part of the themes that run through the exhibition. “U.S. Overland Stage,” taken around 1867, shows a stagecoach on the Kansas to California route. All of the soldiers who are riding as protection are African American.

28. Zalmon Gilbert

    Prison baby, ca. 1876

    Three other pictures (28, 29, 30)begin the recurring theme related to legal systems and justice. One is a carte-de-visite portrait of a “prison baby” (Willis D. Mason, born November 6, 1875). It was taken by Z. Gilbert of

    Joliet, Illinois, and appears to be of a child born to a woman held in prison.

29. Samuel M. Fox

    Whipping Post, Delaware, ca. 1889

A second is entitled “Whipping Post, Delaware.” Taken by Samuel M. Fox, it shows a black man tied to a post

    with another man preparing to flog him. It dates to 1889.

30. William Van der Weyde

    Sing Sing Prison, ca. 1890s

    The third photograph is one of the most disturbing pictures in the exhibition. Taken by William H. Vander Weyde in the 1890s at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, it shows a man being strapped into an electric chair. We know nothing about the circumstances of the situation, such as the crime, the trial, or the prisoner‟s name. The power of the picture speaks for itself.


31. Strohmeyer and Wyman

    Cotton is King, plantation scene (Georgia), 1895 (detail of stereograph)

    Covering a span of sixty years, over thirty photographs show various aspects of the lives of African Americans primarily in the rural South. As Amanda Smith Jemand wrote in 1901: “The Southerner boasts this is a white man‟s country. I deny it; it is my country as well as his. The South, especially, is as much the black man‟s as the 8white man‟s; for every plantation, town and city shows the work of his hand.” William E. B. DuBois, two years

    later, wrote that “in well-nigh the whole rural South the black farmers are peons, bound by law and custom to an 9 economic slavery, from which the only escape is death or the penitentiary.”

    The first photograph in this section of the exhibition is a stereograph, the title of which reads “Cotton is King, Plantation Scene, Georgia, U.S.A.”. It shows field hands picking cotton, one of them a young girl.

Images 32, 33

    Completing the series on King Cotton are two other stereoviews, one of a group of men and boys waiting for their wagon teams at a cotton gin in Florida, the other showing bales of cotton being loaded on a levee in Texas. The three photographs span the twenty year period from 1879 to about 1900. However, they clearly illustrate thlife for many Southern African Americans as it continued well into the 20 century. For even in the 1960s,

educator Septima P. Clark would recall in her autobiography that her pupils “didn‟t come in until the cotton had

    been picked, and often it was Christmas and sometimes even January before all the cotton was gleaned.”

32. Kilburn Brothers

    Waiting for your team at the cotton gin, Florida, 1879

33. Keystone View Company

    Cars loaded with cotton bales on levee, Tennessee, ca. 1900

34. Kilburn Brothers

    Hurrah, Inauguration Day, Washington D.C., March 4, 1889

     thShowing other aspects of life in the South for African Americans at the end of the 19 century are three

    additional stereographs. One shows a group, including a number of African Americans, celebrating Inauguration Day in Washington, D. C. on March 4,1889.

Images 35, 36

    Another depicts a family group in St. Augustine, Florida, and the third shows women at a washing camp in

    South Carolina.

35. George Barker

    A family group, St. Augustine, Florida, 1888

36. J.A. Palmer

    Washing Camp, South Carolina, ca. 1870s

Images 37- 39 (37 & 38 are details of stereographs)

    The post Civil War years led to extensive efforts by many people to try to provide educational opportunities to ththe freed African Americans. Four pictures from the end of the 19 century expand this theme. Three

    stereographs show “The Colored School” in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the “Stanton Institute” in Jacksonville,

    Florida, and the “Jubilee Singers” from Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee. These three pictures document

    the effort to offer education at all levels.

37. Kilburn Brothers

    The Colored School, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1891

38. Unidentified photographer

    Stanton Institute, Jacksonville, Florida, ca. 1890s

39. James Wallace

    Jubilee singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1875

40. A.D. White

    Union of the Races, Jacksonville, Florida, ca. 1890s

    thThe final picture from the 19 century directly related to Southern life is a group picture entitled “Union of the

    Races” taken in Jacksonville, Florida, and shows black and white men and women gathered on a porch together.

    Images 41, 42 thThe 19 century closed with the United States emerging as a world power as a result of the Spanish American War. Booker T. Washington (figure 41), in addressing a meeting in Boston at the end of the War, said: “When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War, have

    heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionist and ex-masters, then decide within yourselves whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest 12opportunity to live for its country.” thRecognizing this contribution to the War, the “9 Ohio (colored)” troop was depicted in a stereograph taken at

    Camp Alger in Virginia (figure 42), a detail of which is reproduced in this catalogue.

41. Unidentified photographer

    Booker T. Washington, ca. 1900

42. Charles Webster and Josephus Albee

    9th Ohio (Colored) at Camp Alger, Virginia, ca. 1897

Images 43, 44

    Although it is the capital of the United States, Washington, D. C. has been primarily a “Southern” city. It has always housed many African Americans but, as with the rest of the South, it has not always been hospitable to this population. In 1907 Mary Church Terrell wrote that “surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States. . . thTwo photographs from Washington, D. C. in the first decade of the 20 century sum up the sad facts of Mrs.

    Terrell‟s comments. One shows the shattered back yards of a slum area, a lone black woman leaning on her

    porch railing (figure 43). The other is a picture of a tiny girl sitting in a chair in front of a curtain-draped window. Hanging precariously in the window frame is a sign for the “Temporary Home for Colored Children” (figure 44). Both of these photographs were taken by Lewis W. Hine.

43. Lewis W. Hine

    Slums in Washington, D.C., 1908

44. Lewis W. Hine

    Orphan, ca. 1906

Images 45- 55

    Noted for his famous images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and children working in factories and mines, Hine took an eloquent series of photographs of black life in the South between the turn of the century and the early 1930s. A number of these highlight the section of the exhibition dealing with the rural South (figures 42-55). Among the Southern African Americans depicted by Hine, we see families or individuals at home in shacks, as well as in finely appointed houses or, as in one instance, a public library. We see two women hard at work, one in a print shop, the other in a tobacco factory. We also find the continuing theme of education with a pair of photographs of a group of little children being cared for in a nursery school and two men attending a literacy class.

In the middle of this series is a Hine portrait of a sergeant at the Rainbow Division Camp, taken in 1917 during

    America‟s participation in World War I (figure 48). A stereograph, published by the Keystone View Company, ththshows an enthusiastic New York City crowd welcoming the “Colored Veterans of the 15 Regiment, 369 Infantry” on their return from fighting in Europe (figure 49). When America went to war, African Americans

    were again there doing their share.

45. Lewis W. Hine

    Mother and two children, ca. 1910s

46. Lewis W. Hine

    Unidentified woman, ca. 1910

47. Lewis W. Hine

    Unidentified man, ca. 1915

48. Lewis W. Hine

    Sergeant, Rainbow Division Camp, 1917

49. Keystone View Co.

    Colored Veterans of the th Regiment th Infantry marching up Fifth 15369

    Avenue, N.Y.C., 1918

50. Lewis W. Hine

    Children in nursery school, ca. 1920

51. Lewis W. Hine

    Literacy class, ca. 1920

52. Lewis W. Hine

    Linotyper, ca. 1920

53. Lewis W. Hine

    Tobacco worker, ca. 1920

54. Lewis W. Hine

    Women at home, ca. 1920

55. Lewis W. Hine

    Men in library, ca. 1920

Images 56- 59

    Doris Ulmann, a wealthy white woman from the North, had taken up photography and focused her lens

    primarily upon the people of the South. In doing so, she produced a rich body of work portraying black life in

    South Carolina in the 1929-30 period. Four of Ulmann‟s images appear in the kit; all continue the sub-themes. One shows a crowded church service filled with joyous women in summer white dresses. Another shows a

    group of men on a work detail, all dressed in striped prison uniforms. The other two depict the work ethic with which the black experience is imbued, seen also in the earlier series by Lewis Hine.

56. Doris Ulmann

    Group at church meeting, ca. 1930

57. Doris Ulmann

    Men on chain gang digging ditch, ca. 1930

58. Doris Ulmann

    Woman in field standing with hand-held plow, ca. 1930

59. Doris Ulmann

    Man and boy with boat, ca. 1929-30

60. Lewis W. Hine

    Red Cross delivering seeds to drought sufferers, Mississippi, 1930

    Natural disasters and the economic plight of the Great Depression were the reasons that the final group of photographs from the rural South were produced. Lewis Hine documented an American Red Cross relief effort for drought sufferers in Mississippi in 1930. The photograph from this series displayed in the exhibition shows a distribution center for seeds to be given to stricken farmers. A group of white farmers, all of whom have received their packages, stand on one side of the porch. A long line of black farmers wait in line to receive their packages on the other side of the porch.

Images 61- 64

    The Farm Security Administration‟ s team of photographers captured images of the plight of African Americans in the rural South, as well as of whites and migrant workers across the country. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein all produced strong photographs from this period.

61. Walker Evans

    Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936

62. Dorothea Lange

    Ex-slave with a long memory, Alabama, 1937

63. Arthur Rothstein

    One family, Alabama, 1938

64. Arthur Rothstein

    Gee’s Bend, Alabama, 1938


Images 65- 67

    Among the many black leaders that emerged during the first decades of the 20th century, there were noted individuals in the arts and education. Nickolas Muray, a prominent celebrity portrait photographer of the 1920s to the 1960s, took a striking picture of poet Langston Hughes around 1925 (figure 65). Edward Steichen did a series of photographs of Paul Robeson a decade later (figure 66). And Aaron Siskind produced an historic moment when Mary McLeod Bethune, the famous educator, stood on the altar of a church with union leader A. Philip Randolph at a service for pullman porters in the mid 1930s (figure 67).

65. Nickolas Muray

    Langston Hughes, ca. 1925

66. Edward Steichen

    Paul Robeson, ca. 1935

67. Aaron Siskind

    Mary McLeod Bethune and A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1935


Images 68- 83

    Poet-playwright-diplomat James Weldon Johnson called Harlem a Negro metropolis in his book Black Manhattan. He talked of the struggle of its residents to make a living, the power of its churches, its disintegrating forces, and its gaiety and zest for life.

    Around 1939 a group of members of the Photo League of New York took an extensive series of photographs, which they formed into an exhibition called "Harlem Document." These photographs by different members of the Photo League illustrate various aspects of Harlem life - the poverty, the struggle for work and education, religion, the joys of life and the indomitable spirit of African Americans. The photographers included Aaron Siskind, who donated his personal collection of "Harlem Document" photographs to the International Museum of Photography, Beatrice Kosofsky, Jack Manning (Mendelsohn), Richard Lyon, Harold Corsini and Morris Engel.

68. Morris Engel

    Street scene, Harlem, ca. 1939

69. Beatrice Kosofsky

    Apartment rental sign, ca. 1939

70. Jack Manning

    Tenement yards, ca. 1939

71. Jack Manning

    Inside a kitchen, ca. 1937

72. Aaron Siskind

    Newspaper office, ca. 1939

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