Three Children with Nanny


Children on Lawn at Brook Hill [Nanny hiding behind the children] (circa 1905); for detailed information, go here.
Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries Digital Collections » Through the Lens of Time Collection
Copyright is held by the Valentine Richmond History Center.

This is from a digital collection of photographs titled Through the Lens of Time: Images of African Americans from the Cook Collection. The online collection has over 250 images of African Americans dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, selected from the George and Huestis Cook Photograph Collection at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The digitally scanned images on this site are of prints from glass plate negatives or film negatives taken by George S. Cook (1819-1902) and his son Huestis P. Cook (1868-1951), primarily in the Richmond and Central Virginia area. The physical Collection consists of over 10,000 negatives taken from the 1860s to the 1930s in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Although George and Huestis Cook were white, much of the photo content in the collection includes images of African Americans. Huestis Cook is credited as being one of the earliest Southern photographers to picture African Americans in realistic settings.

This image from the collection has a probably unintended symbolism that is inescapable today.

United Colors of the Union Army


Soldier Group, circa Civil War
Source: Library of Congress

I wish there was more to tell about this diverse group of Union “men.” The picture, from a Library of Congress collection, is simply titled “Soldier group.” Details on the photo, such as its Library of Congress reporduction number, are here.

If any one can share any information or insights on the photo, I’d be much obliged.

Training School for Wives and Mothers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1888

This photograph is from the book “In Christ’s Stead”: Autobiographical Sketches, which is the memoir of Joanna P. Moore, a white missionary who dedicated her life to improving the condition of African Americans in the South. A summary of the book is here.

This is from the book, which tells of how Moore’s training school in Baton Rouge was shut down:

After the close of the school at Point Coupee, I moved with all my belongings to Baton Rouge, where I opened under promising auspices a school which I hoped might be permanent, but which continued but two years and a half.

I was very enthusiastic, as were also all the teachers associated with me. The Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society paid my salary and that of Miss Button while she was with me. Besides this expenses were provided for by God who thus set the seal of His approval on the work.

While in Baton Rouge I received one hundred dollars from the Happy Thought League, under the care of Mrs. P. G. McCollin, who is now in heaven. That money came in a time of great need. I would weary my reader if I told of the many answers to prayer in so many ways during my short pilgrimage. The money came pouring in, so that I had $2,000 in my hands with which to purchase the home in which my school was held, but the bargain was not closed when all my hopes were shattered and my school destroyed. This is the sad part of my story. God help me to tell it wisely, kindly, and truthfully.

I find among my records a conversation I had with one of my pupils about two months after this calamity:

“Sister Moore, is our school for colored women really closed?” “Yes, my scholars all went home, and so far I find it impossible to have them return.”

“Why did any one disturb your school?” “I cannot tell; I thought everything was peace and safety. I did not think any of the white people had very serious objections to my school.”

“What was in the notice put on your gate?” “There were the emblems of death–a skull and cross-bones and the notice stated that I was ordered by the ‘White League’ to close my school and leave the place.”

“Why did they do such a cruel thing when we were having such a blessed, quiet school and not molesting any one?” “The reason given in the notice is exactly in these words, ‘You are trying to educate the niggers to consider themselves the equals of the white people.’”

“Oh, I am so sorry! What do the white people mean? If we steal or fight they punish us, and then when some one comes to tell us in a kind loving way how to be good and do right, then they want to drive her away.”

“I don’t understand it myself, all that seems to be now in my power, is to ask the Lord to open some other door by which my dear women may get an education, and be taught the Bible and the duties of home life.”

“What did you do when you found the notice at your gate?” “I got my bonnet and went down town and showed it to three or four of the best white people in town.”

“What did they say?” “They were indignant, and said it was an outrage, and promised they would do what they could do to protect me. I also showed it to the mayor and other officials, and they promised the same.”

“Have they made any effort to find the guilty persons?” “I don’t know that they have.”

“Oh, Miss Moore, what will become of the colored people?” “God will take care of them, my dear child, if not on earth, there is a safe place up in heaven. Persecutions are a part of the bargain God makes with His children. Let us be patient. God knows it all, and Rom. 8:28 is true. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” This trouble will in some way work together for good. We must trust God’s promises.”

The above is a sample of many conversations with my women.

The photo is from an online version of the book at the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South website. It is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had made it available to be freely used by individuals for research, teaching and personal use.

Colored Soldier and Family, circa Civil War


Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters
Source: Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress description of the photograph: This photo shows a soldier in uniform, a wife in dress and hat, and two daughters wearing matching coats and hats. In May 1863, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued General Order No. 143 creating the Bureau of U. S. Colored Troops. This image was found in Cecil County, Maryland, making it likely that this soldier belonged to one of the seven U.S.C.T. regiments raised in Maryland. (Source: Matthew R. Gross and Elizabeth T. Lewin, 2010)

More details can be found at the Library of Congress record for the photo, which is here.

This framed picture is from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. You can browse the entire set of photos in this online collection by starting here.

Links of Interest, 2/26/2011

Some links of interest:

• Is it wrong for me to think this is funny?

• It’s Oscars weekend! Historian Gary Gallagher offers his thoughts on Civil War movies here and here. These are based on his book Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War.

• If you want do some reading about the US Colored Troops, The Sable Arm blog offers several suggestions in Top 12 Books: USCT Edition.

• Andy Hall’s Dead Confederates blog has an interesting post about a female African American member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

• Last but not least: the 6TH Regiment Infantry United States Colored Troops, Reenactors Inc. has an online photo album of reenactment activities that’s worth a quick look. Two groups of pictures caught my interest.


This is from a set of phots titled “Three Centuries of Black Soldiers.” (See the Announcement below.)


This is from a set of photos titled “Battle of Pensacola.” This appears to be a reenactment of the Revolutionary War’s Siege of Pensacola in 1781, (see picture 9 of 9), not the Battle of Pensacola that took place during the War of 1812.

Announcement: If you’re in the Trenton, NJ area on February 26-27, there will be a “Three Centuries of Black Soldiers” event at The Old Barracks Museum. Follow the link for more details.

Off Topic Saturday: The Black South of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange is a famous American photographer. She worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the 1930s, going across the country to take pictures that documented the effects of the Great Depression on the American people.

She is best known for her Migrant Mother picture, which has been called “an iconic image of the Great Depression.” Lange’s work took her all over the South, where she took pictures of both struggling blacks and whites. Many of her FSA photographs are available from the Library of Congress’ online archives. I user several of her photos to create this slideshow of black life in the South during the Great Depression.

These photographs are a vivid reminder of how tough those days were. But it’s notable that the black folks in these pictures look hardened, but not broken. They are lean, strong, and unbowed. Life is hard, and they accept it as such. Indeed, for many of them, a hard life is the only life they’ve known.

These pictures were taken in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas during the mid to late 1930s.

The music is from a traditional spiritual performed by Texas gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson (vocal and guitar) and Willie B. Harris (vocal) in 1927. The song is titled “Keep Your Light Trimmed and Burning.”

Frederick Douglass: The First Black Media Star?


The Photogenic Frederick Douglass: Portrait of the Abolitionist as a Young Man

Black was not beautiful in the 19th century. An 1862 editorial in the New York Times proclaimed that any interest in the negro could not “arise from his beauty, for no writer on aesthetics has ever pretended to find either beauty or grace in the shambling African.” There was even talk that dark skin was a sign of the mark of Ham, indicating that the negro was both stained and shamed in a Biblical sense.

You couldn’t tell any of that from looking at pictures of Frederick Douglass. To use a modern phrase, he loved the camera, and the camera loved him. Perhaps the white genes he inherited from his father, which both softened and sharpened his negro features, made him more appealing to those of European heritage. Perhaps it was broad, manly look and physical presence, which film was able to capture. Perhaps it was his obvious self-confidence. Maybe it was his old-school (old century?) afro, combed down (not out, as with 60s/70s style ‘fros), which framed his face like a lion’s mane. Or maybe it was simply because he had a lot of practice in front of the camera.

Whatever the reason, Fred Douglass was one of the most – perhaps the most – photographed and depicted negroes of his time. This only added to a fame that was built on being an outstanding orator, in an era when the ability to speak before a crowd was prized; and on his writing ability, as shown in his newspapers The North Star and Douglass’ Monthly. If not a king of all media, to use a modern term, he was at least a prince.

He was the face of the black community, but he also had crossover appeal. His communication skills and presence served him well with white and black audiences – and male and female audiences – equally well. (Douglass was a woman’s suffrage supporter and spoke at women’s rights meetings.)

He aged well, no less a sight in his older days than his youth. In truth, he was a media star for the ages.

Burying the Dead

This iconic image from the Civil War is also one of its most grisly.

The photograph was taken on the site of the Battle of Cold Harbor. Wiki says the battle “is remembered as one of American history’s bloodiest, most lopsided battles. Thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in a hopeless frontal assault against the fortified troops of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.” Cold Harbor, Virginia, is located near the Richmond-Petersburg area. The battle took place in May/June 1864, but the photograph was taken in 1865.

Some estimates put the number of Union deaths from Cold Harbor at around 1800 men; wounded and injured at around 9000 men; and captured and missing at around 1800 men. By contrast, some reports state that the Confederates suffered under 100 deaths, around 3000 wounded, and captured and missing around 1000. But the numbers vary by source, as the wiki article for the battle shows.

Somebody had to deal with all the dead, and in this case, it appears that contrabands – runaway slaves who fled to the Union lines – got that duty. I’ve read at least one description of the photo which says these men were members of the Union army, but I haven’t seen enough evidence to establish that description as correct. Although, the hats on the men in the background, which we can’t see all that well, do resemble soldier caps.

The website for the John Paul Getty Museum describes the picture:

This gruesome scene depicts the unpleasant job of burying the remains of fallen Union soldiers from the June 1864 battles of Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor. This task has fallen to a group of black men doing the menial work while a white man standing at upper left acts as overseer. The man seated in the center, next to the stretcher laden with human parts, looks directly at the camera, revealing no emotion that can be reconciled with his grisly cargo.

Already reduced to nothing more than a pile of bones, these bodies lay unburied for ten months until the war’s end, while the blistering heat and humidity of the Virginia summer hastened their decomposition. Local residents usually came forth to give a proper burial to the enemy troops that fell near their homes, but the scale of the casualties here–nearly sixty thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded in this area–precluded this courtesy.

This picture highlights the fact that during the war, the Union army made good use of the newly-emancipated freedmen to perform these and other tasks. Thousands of black men and women provided noncombatant support for the Federals.

The photograph was taken by John Reekie, a photographer with the famous Mathew Brady studio in Washington, D.C.

Source: Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. “[Cold Harbor, Va. African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle]“
CALL NUMBER: LC-B817- 7926; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-DIG-cwpb-04324 DLC (digital file from original neg.); LC-B8171-7926 DLC (b&w film neg.)

To view all of the photo images on this site so far, click here.

EDIT: Andy Hall, who publishes the excellent blog Dead Confederates, provided this:

Drew Faust reproduces this image in her book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. She identifies the men as being under the command of Captain James Moore, who would soon be transferred to the site of Andersonville to (with Clara Barton) supervise the disinterment and reburial of the Union dead there. The men in this image would seem to be USCTs:

InJune 1865 Captain James Moore, an assistant quartermaster who had’ been active in fledgling graves registration efforts during the war, was ordered to the Wilderness and Spotsylvania “for the purpose of superintending the interments of the remains of Union soldiers yet unburied and marking their burial-places for future identification.” Moore found hundreds of unmarked graves, as well as skeletons that had been left for more than two years without the dignity of burial. “By exposure to the weather,” he reported, “all traces oftheir identity were entirely obliterated.” Summer heat and “the unpleasant odor from decayed matter” prevented him from removing all bodies to a central location, but he made sure all were carefully interred, with remains appropriately “hidden from view.” On these two fields he estimated that he oversaw the burial offifteen hundred men, although the scattering of so many bones made an exact count impossible. Soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops, not yet mustered out of service, did the often repellent work. Moore reported that 785 tablets were erected over named graves, and he submitted a list ofthe officers and men he had identified.

I think the men in this image are, in fact, USCTs, not only because of their kepis, but because their clothing is uniform and in good shape — contrabands generally appear in photos to be much less well clothed.

Library of Congress high-res TIFF versions available:

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002713100/

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003000494/PP/

Keep up the good work. (I almost said “keep digging,” but, you know. . . .)

Buffalo Soldiers, 25th Infantry Regiment, Montana, 1890

This is one of the more iconic photos of the 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers. The picture title is “Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana.” This picture is from the Library of Congress.

For best viewing, be sure that this window extends the entire length of the screen.

A larger-sized version of the picture is here.

Colored Girl, Georgia, Circa 1899-1900

This beautiful photograph is from a collection of images that was prepared for the 1900 Paris Exposition. The picture was included in a display devoted to the history and “present conditions” of African Americans.

W.E.B. Du Bois and special agent Thomas J. Calloway spearheaded the planning, collection and installation of the exhibit materials, which included 500 photographs. The Library of Congress holds approximately 220 mounted photographs reportedly displayed in the exhibition. Thankfully, this and other imagescollected by DuBois are available for viewing on-line from the Library of Congress. At the Library itself, the image is part of the Daniel Murray Collection.

Many of the pictures features images from the black middle class community in Atlanta and Georgia. DuBois worked at Atlanta University, a black college formed at the end of the Civil War. DuBois, one of the greatest activists and scholars, used the exhibit to show the culture and progress of the African American community to a world audience.

The title of this image is simply “African American girl, full-length portrait, standing next to chair, facing front.”