The Associated Press released a photo reportedly found in a Charlotte, North Carolina attic that has again stirred up ill feelings of the "Old South". The photo circa 1860 shows two young boys sitting on a whiskey barrel.
The accompanying article uses words like: Horror, Tragic, Shocking, Abused, Mistreated, Whipped, Beaten, Hungry, and "two boys who were victims of history". Clearly someone with an agenda has taken an ordinary old photo and turned it into a massive political statement, but for what purpose?
The rest of the article is here in the Charlotte Observer.
The story goes on with some generalizations about life in the post emancipation era. The comments added to the story range from racist to outrage, and by noon Friday the Observer had shut down the comments.
Life in the 1860's was not easy for most in the South. Just because the boys are wearing clothes that once belonged to someone twice their size and they are bare footed doesn't mean they were mistreated slaves.
It is unfair to say that the photo represents all that was wrong with slavery. Slavery was wrong, but what we would consider tragic poverty by today's standards and view as truly appalling was common place throughout the South for both whites and blacks.
In the photo below from 1907 shows Lula Edmonds and her 3 children in front of their just completed "Dog Trot" house. So named because dogs could "trot" right through the middle.
The girls while in their Sunday best are both bare footed as well. The one in the middle is my grandmother. Circa 1906.
Poverty was so wide spread and common place in the South that not much had changed by 1914 as the two photos below illustrate. Photographers from "up north" would tour the South and take photos of young black boys. Selling the photos with humorous captions as post cards back home.
In 1939 Cedar's grandfather (Clifton Neil McIntire, Sr.) took this photo, the caption in a company publication read "Old Joe A Typical Southern Negro", the photo was and the end of a company promotional featuring employees and products of the International Harvester Company Chattanooga Works.
Joe is seen holding a steel hoe, with overalls and a shirt five sizes too big, a hat given to him by my grandfather and shop protective glasses. I have no idea why he is wearing the goggles.
Old photos like the one published by the Associated Press and the Charlotte Observer can be instructive or destructive.
One of the first writing assignments I had in high school was to write a story about a young barefoot child sitting on the ground her head bowed. As a class we were allowed to ask (interview) our teacher questions about the photo. In the black and white photo the class noted that she had dark hair and wore a straw hat. So we assumed she was a young Vietnamese child who was sitting on the ground crying.
The news at the time was about the Vietnam war ending and the images were non stop.
The entire class failed the assignment, because we all wrote about the horrors of war, that the girl was an orphan and her parents had been killed by US Bombs dropped on innocent villagers.
Turned out the photo was the teacher's own 3 year daughter at Myrtle Beach wearing a sun hat playing in the sand. The lesson, words can turn any photo into a tragedy.
The photo found in the attic by the way was bought for $30,000.00. I'd be happy to sell the photo of Old Joe for 1/2 that.