Negro Slave Auction - Atlanta

James B White

Honored Fallen Comrade
Dec 4, 2011

The page on the soldier in question calls him a "guard posted," but I don't see it. He's sitting and he has set his rifle on the ground. If he's supposed to be a guard, it's a propaganda piece about those lazy negroes who aren't fit to be soldiers. But I think it's just the opposite kind of propaganda piece. He's an armed black man who's reading, not a guard who's goofing off. For antebellum southern whites, it doesn't get much scarier than that, and placing him in front of the sale sign is an in-your-face message.

The 14th USCT was geographically the closest, as the website mentions. For what it's worth, the journal of the chaplain of the 14th USCT exists, and the finding aid says:

"The regiment was stationed initially at Chattanooga, where they became the first Colored regiment to be seen by most of the Army of the Cumberland. There, Elgin pressed forward with an ambitious effort to teach the soldiers the basics of reading and writing as well as the Bible. 'I must educate before I can successfully impart religious truth to them,' he wrote, 'Their minds must be awakened and disciplined' (p. 62). Within two weeks of arriving at Chattanooga, Elgin had taught 380 men the alphabet, and the number of those able to read somewhat had increased from 10 to 127."

So if Barnard ran across a stray member of the 14th USCT in Atlanta, and wanted to take his picture, a member of that particular regiment would be just the type to say, "Hey, why don't you show me reading a book?"

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
That's exactly what I was thinking, James B. It's so funny, thinking up excuses why there'd be a black soldier here, gosh, how could that be, and it's being discussed 150 years later. The simplest answer is generally 'it', if there's an African American person shown in the close-up, probably nothing wrong with the film- this is a pretty clear shot everywhere else, it's unlikely to have failed just where it counts. Photographers were reporters too, talk about the liberal media, they made a lot of personal statements in their work. Not another person in sight, that awful sign, and just one deliberately placed and posed sentry. He's not just reading, he's almost bored, ( the photographer is telling us ), what a snore of a duty having to guard this sewer. It simply has zero power over him any longer.

Military records can be awfully wierd, who is where and why, and who was peeled off some unit and attached elsewhere for a week or month- sometimes this happened without a darn record, too. One of my grgrgrandfathers gave me a major migraine because of something like this, being sent somewhere I guess for 'x' amount of time. His company just showed UP somewhere it shouln't have been, according to other records. I don't know much on this stuff but would have to guess things were a bit of a mess down there during this time, who knows who tooled through where and when and why?

I do think it's meant to make a statement, not merely to be an interesting shot of a city street.


Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jul 7, 2015
Here is another one of mine.

View attachment 242705

A casual glance would show a list of business that you might find in any city in the country at the time. To the far left of this image was “Gilbert’s Jewelry Store” (only “LBERT” can be made out in the image). To the right was F. Geutebruck who dealt Cuban and American tobacco and snuff. To its right was China, Glass and Queensware, with two more cigar manufacturer’s or wholesalers to the right of that.

In the first floor window of the China, glass store they advertised the sale of “Lamp, Pine and Kerosene oils”. It is outside of this building that an African-American solider decided to rest. Just above his head the first floor announced another commodity, slaves. “Auction & Negro Sales” available in the same building as fine china and lamp oil.

This building, as well as much of Atlanta was destroyed not long after this image was taken when the burning of Atlanta became the starting point of Sherman’s march to the sea.
I’ve really enjoyed looking at the picture, great piece of work and very interesting.


Oct 11, 2016
As to the original question back from the first page regarding the slave auction building, even Southerners were a bit sensitive about these things by this time. The days of large public auctions held basically in the streets was long past.

The front of the building is the entrance. Business is conducted there as well, ie. money changing hands, titles exchanged, etc.

The holding pen and sale block would be behind the office, in the rear of the building, accessible from the alley. Nobody dropped off or picked up slaves through the front door any more than a business today has a loading dock out front.

We have pictures in our minds of the dockside slave blocks in Charleston for example, and that may be real but it was also 40 or 50 years earlier.

By the time of the photo, buyers would enter through the front, but slaves were auctioned and moved in and out through the back. The buyer would then return to the office, settle his account and then depart out the front.

It was a grubby, disreputable business- witness polite society's attitude towards Bedford Forrest - and the front office was the business-like face of it. Everybody obviously knew what went on there but if it wasn't on display they could ignore it.

And a gentleman could enter and leave under seemingly respectable circumstances.

That's what's really frightening about that photo. A bland, run of the mill doorway that hides the hell behind it, allowing people to stroll by without having to face what went on 50 feet away.
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