Why were blacks included in white portraits?

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Drew

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All theories regarding conspicuous consumption and juvenile-caretaker bonding seem quite plausible, in view of not ONE pic ever seen during my entire life that depicts a Black male slave with his white captors' entourage.

@CLuckJD, it's important to note that photography was just coming into being during the Civil War period. Photographs of people who were slaves at that time are very rare for this reason.

It didn't really exist, particularly in the rural South, so don't read too much into this.

BTW, welcome to CivilWarTalk.
 

WJC

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I believe that the Blacks shown were trusted, beloved servants. They were included because of the fondness the families had for them.
But we must not forget that with all of that, the White families looked upon the Blacks as less than human. This may seem a cruel analogy, but slavery was a cruel, evil practice: it was akin to including the beloved family dog in a photo.
 

Drew

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I believe that the Blacks shown were trusted, beloved servants. They were included because of the fondness the families had for them.
But we must not forget that with all of that, the White families looked upon the Blacks as less than human. This may seem a cruel analogy, but slavery was a cruel, evil practice: it was akin to including the beloved family dog in a photo.

OK, but you understand, there really wasn't any photography in the rural, Antebellum South, right?

So, slavery was bad, yaddah yaddah yaddah, but there aren't any photographs because there was no photography.

Have a nice evening.
 

WJC

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OK, but you understand, there really wasn't any photography in the rural, Antebellum South, right?
Thanks for your response.
Just where in my brief remarks did I mention where the photographs were taken? That is immaterial. The point is Blacks are often included in "early photographs and paintings of white child portraits of the slave period."
 

WJC

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there aren't any photographs because there was no photography.
Thanks for your response.
Then what are these and other similar images that are displayed in reputable museums? 21st-Century fakes?
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I've always found this one haunting. The black woman's expression, the tilt of her head is saying something. I won't conjecture on what that might be because it's impossible to be in her head. The family members hold one pose, the black woman's pose distinctly different.

family w af am woman.jpg
 

Will Carry

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I have a photograph, taken in Conyers Georgia in 1957, of me as a baby in the arms of Alice Cornell, our "maid". Mom and Dad both worked in Atlanta and Alice kept me and my two older sisters. I remember when I was 5 years old I was playing in the back yard and Alice came out to call me in to take a nap. "Morris, you come in now and take your nap." I just looked at her and didn't move. She said "Now Morris you mind me and come on in." I was playing and having fun. I didn't need no nap so just stood there defiantly. "Morris, if you don't come in here right now I'm gonna cut me a switch!" I stood my ground. She went over to the hedge and broke off a stem and with one swift movement she stripped off all the leaves. She walked up to me and didn't say a word. She just started wailing on my legs with that switch. It lit me up! I had never experience anything like that. I ran crying inside and took my nap. When mom got home Alice said "I had to take a switch to Morris. He wouldn't come in for his nap." Mom came in and spanked me. "You listen to Alice! You do what she says!" Double jeopardy! That's the way it was. If you got spanked at school, you got another one when you got home.
Alice's daughter graduated from college. Her son was a sergeant in the US Army. My dad co-signed a loan so Alice could buy a house. I loved that woman. I think she loved me.
 
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RobertP

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I have a photograph, taken in Conyers Georgia in 1957, of me as a baby in the arms of Alice Cornell, our "maid". Mom and Dad both worked in Atlanta and Alice kept me and my two older sisters. I remember when I was 5 years old I was playing in the back yard and Alice came out to call me in to take a nap. "Morris, you come in now and take your nap." I just looked at her and didn't move. She said "Now Morris you mind me and come on in." I was playing and having fun. I didn't need no nap so just stood there defiantly. "Morris, if you don't come in here right now I'm gonna cut me a switch!" I stood my ground. She went over to the hedge and broke off a stem and with one swift movement she stripped off all the leaves. She walked up to me and didn't say a word. She just started wailing on my legs with that switch. It lit me up! I had never experience anything like that. I ran crying inside and took my nap. When mom got home Alice said "I had to take a switch to Morris. He wouldn't come in for his nap." Mom came in a spanked me. "You listen to Alice! You do what she says!" Double jeopardy! That's the way it was. If you got spanked at school, you got another one when you got home.
Alice's daughter graduated form college. Her son was a sergeant in the US Army. My dad co-signed a loan so Alice could buy a house. I loved that woman. I think she loved me.
Thank you. My brother and I had the same experiences with Moonie Brown. I’d wager that few of the white people in this thread from outside the South ever experienced a strong emotional bond with a black person from a very young age. Yet they pose as experts.

Edited.
 

Hoseman

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Thank you. My brother and I had the same experiences with Moonie Brown. I’d wager that few of the white people in this thread from outside the South ever experienced a strong emotional bond with a black person from a very young age. Yet they pose as experts.

Cash, thank God he’s gone, calls them props. He insults them and me.
My uncle and aunt had the same exact experience. They had a lady that came and took care of the house and watched my two cousins while both parents were working. They looked to her as a third grandmother. She was part of the family and was loved by all. This was in Virginia during the mid 1970's.
 

ForeverFree

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I believe that the Blacks shown were trusted, beloved servants. They were included because of the fondness the families had for them.
But we must not forget that with all of that, the White families looked upon the Blacks as less than human. This may seem a cruel analogy, but slavery was a cruel, evil practice: it was akin to including the beloved family dog in a photo.

True. People say that these slaves were "just like family." But no white person would allow their own white family members to be held in human bondage! The idea that they were "just like family" stretches the meaning of the word "like", but it was safe and re-assuring.

In fact, the love and affection felt for these black "virtual" family members was conditional, based on the willingness of the slave to accept enslavement. But as Sting would say, "If you love somebody, set them free." How many slave masters loved their slaves so much that they set them free?

Dolly was a slave on a plantation owned by the Manigault family. Photos were taken of the slaves. When Dolly fled bondage during the CW, a reward was offered for her capture. The document about the reward contains Dolly's photo; it' discussed here:


484_Manigault_Dolly2.jpg


In writing about this on Youtube, Emma Kioko says

I think one of the aspects that makes this project so interesting is the story that goes along with the photograph. In the case of Dolly's wanted poster, the picture, and her desire to own her own body contradicts the wanted poster's 'story' of a shy enslaved woman who hesitates before speaking. By running away she forms her own agency creating a paradoxical tension between her self-liberation and her master's attempt to regain power over her body.​
As we look at all the photographs in this thread, it is key to note that they were staged by whites. What kinds of photos would the servants take if they could stage photos with whomever they chose? We don't know.

- Alan
 
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piratehunter

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View attachment 139457

Dick Gregory made an observation about the differences in race relations in the North and the South that really does capture a common dynamic:

"Up North, they don't care how big I get so long as I don't get too close. In the South, they don't care how close I get so long as I don't get too big."

That difference has played out over again and again in this country, across the generations. I think it's a relevant observation here because these images show it in action -- African American house servants are closely and intimately intertwined with the lives of the families they served, but always, always separated by an invisible and unbreakable line in the social order.

In former days in the deep south I often heard something similar, but stated more like this. "We (older white southern males) don't care how close (actual physical distance) blacks live to us as long as though they don't live as well (economically) as we do.
"Up North" they (whites) don't care how well off blacks are as long as they don't live too close to us."
 

CLuckJD

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@CLuckJD, ... photography was just coming into being during the Civil War period. Photos slaves at that time are very rare for this reason. ...

But why were slave nannies so consistently depicted in very rare photos taken by their captors, then? THAT's more the point I meant to make about "status symbol" and "maternal substitute" theories being plausible. Virtually all slaves in positions to play those roles were female, so both propositions make perfect sense. Not to mention one photo expert who pointed out that primitive photographic techniques in those days required subjects to stay very still for an extended time. So, that seems to confirm the other two dominant theories. And all 3 of them focus on domestic servitude in some way. Which excludes 95+% of all male slaves back then.
 

CLuckJD

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What kinds of photos would the servants take if they could stage photos with whomever they chose? We don't know.

I know, like all fellow slave descendants exactly what ancestors' photo collections would show. Blood kin, just as their captors' selections depicted for most part.

With that "mystery" solved, I thank you for the same favor. Not once in my life had I seen a runaway slave ad with a photo before now. In fact, I'd always understood photography didn't come into full vogue until during the Civil War. Prior to then, I thought daguerreotypes were method utilized as forerunners of less costly and easier photographic process. This also begs the question of why most slavers didn't routinely photograph all their human "inventory" for insurance purposes or facilitating recapture in event of escape.
 
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RobertP

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But why were slave nannies so consistently depicted in very rare photos taken by their captors, then? THAT's more the point I meant to make about "status symbol" and "maternal substitute" theories being plausible. Virtually all slaves in positions to play those roles were female, so both propositions make perfect sense. Not to mention one photo expert who pointed out that primitive photographic techniques in those days required subjects to stay very still for an extended time. So, that seems to confirm the other two dominant theories. And all 3 of them focus on domestic servitude in some way. Which excludes 95+% of all male slaves back then.
Let’s don’t make the rare occurrence normal and then extrapolate to the point where we assume they are showing off wealth. You say there are 3 photos with black nannies. How many photos are there of families and children without black nannies/house keepers. A whole bunch.
 

CLuckJD

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You say there are 3 photos with black nannies. How many photos are there of families and children without black nannies/house keepers. A whole bunch.

I didn't mean to imply having seen just 3 photos of nannies with slavers' families. In fact, I've seen too many more than 3 than I care to remember. My reference to "3" was 2 dominant theories to explain why, plus 1 expert input regarding primitive techniques in that time. All 3 subsume domestic servitude, 95+% of which constitute FEMALE slaves.

And I have no doubt far more non-nanny photos are floating about than nannified variants. But it's totally irrelevant to my original point, which was that ones that ARE nannified feature exclusively female sidekicks, and this by itself suggests explanatory theories are correct.
 

CLuckJD

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... it was akin to including the beloved family dog in a photo.

Good point. And it also brought another thought to mind that I find peculiar but supports the "status symbol" theory. I can't recall even one beloved pet seen in a family portrait in my life. Yet, folks get attached to them just like Black slave nannies. So, why do I see the latter very often and none of the former? Because pets don't suggest wealth but domestic servants do. After all, you must pay a high price for the privilege of personal service at your beck and call. But anybody can find a stray mutt or pick one up free at their humane society.
 

CLuckJD

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I've always found this one haunting. The black woman's expression, the tilt of her head is saying something.

The Black woman's pose is a message that shows us what she really feels about this family and being forced into its photo. Another sample below illustrates that very same effect far more vividly for much greater haunting impact.

25e5f628b0bf279a57d3ee260c394318.jpg
 
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