1930s: Portraits of Ex-Slaves

Alonza Fantroy Toombs, Alabama

Emma L. Howard, Age about 85, Alabama

Jennie Bowen, Age 90, Alabama

Orelia Alexie Franks, Age about 90, Texas.

George Eatman, Age 93, Alabama.

James D. Johnson, Age 77, Texas.

Lizzie Hill, Age 94, Alabama

Rev. Wade Owens, Alabama

Abe Livingston, Age 83, Texas.

Adeline West, Age over 80, Texas.

Alice Houston, Age 78, Texas.

Allen Thomas, Age 97, Texas.

Anderson and Minerva Edwards, Age 93 and 87, Texas.

Andrew Moody and wife Tildy, Age 82, Texas.

Ank Bishop, Age 88

Austin Grant, Age about 90, Texas.

Betty Powers, Age 80, Texas.

Bill Homer, Age 87, Texas.

Charity Grigsby, Age 85, Alabama

Daniel Taylor, Alabama

Ellen Payne, Age 88, Texas.

Esther King Casey, Age 81, Alabama

Gabe Hines, Alabama.

George Dillard, Age 85, Alabama.

Georgia Flournoy, Alabama

Gus Brown, Alabama.

Harriet Jones with Daughter and Granddaughter, Texas.

Henderson Perkins, Age about 85, Texas.

Henry Cheatam, Age 86, Alabama.

Jake Green, Age 85, Alabama.

Jennie Bowen, Age 90, Alabama

Mary Rice, Age 92, Alabama.

Mary Thompson, Age 87, Austin,Texas.

Maugan Shepherd, Age over 80, Alabama.

Moses Hursey, Age about 82, Dallas, Texas.

Oliver Bell, Alabama.

Pauline Johnson and Felice Boudreaux, Texas.

Preely Coleman, Age 85, Texas.

Simon Phillips, age 90, with John Randolph

Simon Walker

Steve Williams, Age 82, Texas.


Unknown II

Unknown III

Unknown IV

Unknown V

Unknown VI

Unknown VII

Unknown VIII

Unknown VIX

Unknown X

Unknown XI

Unknown XII

Unknown XIII

Unknown XIV

Unknown XV

Wash Ingram, Age 93, Texas.

William Henry Towns, Age 83, Alabama.

Source: Library of Congress via These Americans

Source: See across

About The Author

Avatar of Chris

Goggles aficionado. Retronaut’s founder and curator.

38 Responses

  1. Andy Hutson

    RE: Portraits of Ex-Slaves, 1930s

    Second portrait down (a man), incorrectly captioned “Jennie Bowen”, whereas Jennie is actually halfway down the page, with the same exact caption.

    Nice collection!

  2. Barbara Gelb

    So good that someone had the fore thought to take these pictures. Isn’t it amazing at the white characteristics that many of these people reflected. So sad and what a shame these people tolerated such pain.

    • A.Bell

      Just curious as to what you mean by “white characteristics”? If you mean, wearing clothes and not loin cloths or not having simian features, you may be miseducated on Black History and Culture. Perhaps that will be your next Google search phrase to learn a bit more on before posting comments that can be perceived as ignorant.

      • Ismail G.

        A. Bell: If you take a look at some of the photos like the last one, William Henry Towns, he looks like a dark skinned white man… same with a few others.

        Barbara Gelb: There is a huge possibility that the people with, “white characteristics” were bi-racial… it was common practice for both white men and women to rape *have non-consenting sex* with slaves. The children of these relations became property if not killed.

      • Laura

        Um, I think they meant caucasion rather than more typical negroid features, indicating a fair bit of mixed racial heritage. Boy, you are bitter. I hope whatever canker gnaws at you has a chance to heal.

  3. Robert Wainscott

    Amazing photographs. One of the things I could not help but notice was that it appeared that the people were still working even though they were well past the age of retirement. At least what we would consider retirement anyways.

    Still, very thought provoking.

      • Maggie

        I’ll bet you most of the Former Slave Owners got to retire quite comfortably on the money they made during Slave Days, while the people they had brutalized only decades earlier worked hard, harder than anyone how alive and for no pay, until much longer than their former “owners” ever did.

        Such a despicable chapter in American History, the Slave Days.

      • Chris Davis

        I disagree with the post about how the former slave owners retired with lots of money they made off slave labor. After the war the emancipation, the slave dependent economy was devastated. Chances are that former slave owners died very poor (but still privileged compared to the free’d slaves).

    • Ismail G.

      Actually they were still enslaved in a manner of speaking… After they were “freed”, many slaves had to pay back their former masters for allowing them to live on their land during their enslavement, and also for food and clothing that was marked up at astronomical costs. The term for this was called, “Indentured Servitude”. So although the ex-slaves were free by term, there were many that still had to work for a freedom that was never seen.

  4. djeseru

    Most thought provoking indeed. What they have seen through the years they were upon this earth, will we ever know?

  5. KC

    Amazing that, despite the hard lives they must’ve had, they managed to live to such old ages. Many people today don’t manage to last that long.

  6. MU

    My son is mixed – I am white and his father is black – to think that was actually a crime at some point in time, let alone that anyone of any color were treated as less than. My son is 16 and will hopefully never feel the weight of his history.

    • MJ

      sorry MU, but your son most certainly feel this part of history. Look at how they speak to and about the president… racism is still here and not so hidden anymore.

      • The Libertine

        (chuckle) Judging someone on their incompetence is hardly racist or ageist or gender-biased. Your argument is without merit and wholly baseless. It is instead a sad rationalization that fails to hold all to a standard of performance based on merit.

      • Gr K

        Oh, they judge every president the first minute he/she is elected, find them completely without merit the first day and then organize four years of obstruction to prove their theory and deny the rights of those who elected him/her? Nice try, Chuckles. Merit, schmerit.

      • Robin

        People have never acted in such a manner as this president is being treated and the names hes being called. I don’t know what TV station your watching try fox you would be amazed at how ugly they speak of our president.

  7. Jen B

    These are incredible photographs. Can’t help but think the same things KC and Mr. Wainscott did.

    What lives these people led…amazing to think about. Thanks for posting.

  8. lason

    Looking at the faces of my people makes me proud, and sad at the same time. Their eyes hold back so much; what they must have gone through. I cannot imagine I would have been that strong. God Bless them all. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos.

  9. lIZ

    These are the faces of people who built a nation. Thank you for sharing.

  10. K of Riverside Drive

    I think the man “Ank Bishop” can be seen at the beginning introduction of the documentary “Eyes on the Prize”. Also his memoirs can be found in the “Slave Narratives”.

  11. Deborah C

    It was a sad era in history, but it happened. I imagine they had it hard when the slaves were freed because of no money and no job.

    I am not sure if the owners would have retired rich or not since I am sure a lot of the people lost property through the carpetbagger years after the Civil War.

    Do not underestimate the blacks in those days though, I am sure they influenced many a child being nannied and perhaps the child was better for it.

    • Dan

      The slave owners were actually paid compensation by the US government for the loss of their “property”, whereas the ex-slaves received no compensation whatsoever. This enormous debt is still to be paid.

  12. Michael Fleiss

    A nearly perfect collection. I only wish, and perhaps the moderator is watching and able to edit collection, that the specific dates the photos were taken were included.

  13. Jigabones

    Yes these people had it rough, but the generations that came after them could use some humbling by looking at these pix. The American Indan was the real victim here, then, and now!

    • smh

      First of all to compare the two atrocities shows a lack of compassion& knowledge of history. Most of the Native Americans eventually became free, because they knew the land and was able to hide from the slave masters. And they did as the white slave owners did… owned slaves. Yes their land was taken, they had to fight a few wars, but they did not spend 200 years being beaten, told when to rise, when to sleep what to eat, raped, etc… I could go on an on, but I suppose you get what I’m trying to say to you. Go somewhere with that mess

    • Jennifer Williams

      Oh, Jigabones, you mean the generations after who endured Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Sharecropping/Indentured Servitude, the Civil Rights Movement, Redlining, CIA-induced Crack epidemic, and the overall relentless white supremacy upon which this country was built? Those generations after? Yes, we are very humbled by our ancestors. They taught us everything they knew about survival, and their wisdom and perseverance continues through us.

  14. jennifer dove

    These people were getting on in life.like i remember my grandmother.Seniors this age,have worn life into their persona.Remember that survival depended on how well you could grow food and put it up for off-season.work went on every day of the year.Their livelihood depended on what they could farm.Even then,people did not always own the land.The marginalized became”sharecropper’s”and never had enough left over to buy any land.Reconstruction made it harder because southern money was worthless.I’m not sure if the country recovered until WWI.These former slaves are woven into the fabric of OUR country as surely as I am sitting here.Peace.

  15. ava

    So proud to view these pictures. I wish I could see more of them. So proud to be african american and to learn about our struggle. I live everyday for these people, seeing how easy we have it today. THANK YOU!!!!

  16. Morgan S.

    I second Michael’s comment–I wish I knew what dates the photos were taken! But it’s great to have them. I also wish there was more info on them, even though I know records back then were not really what they should have been. This is such a great web site!

  17. David M.

    In response to Maggie and to some of the other commentators here, I would like to point out that the post-Civil War south was devastated by the war and many slave owners lost everything they had. As it was many of these people were not rich, most worked along side their slaves and lived in very similar conditions as they did. Like farmers of today much of their “wealth” if you will was tied up in the land that they owned and the equipment they used to farm with, namely their slaves. I believe the only areas where former slave owners were actually paid compensation for their loss of slaves were in northern states that outlawed the practice before the Civil War.

  18. Dania S.

    A sad point in history. But these photos of former slaves only prove that Black Americans have come along way in regainging their strength and dignity. We will never go back to this state in life or allow anyone to prevent us for getting what we are entitled to life, liberty and the right to be respected. These people started the course and our role models to this generation of black people. No matter how bad it seemed, they can now smile from their graves knowing that their pain and suffering was not in vain.

  19. Angie

    I’m surprised by how long some of these former slaves lived. Many of the pictured individuals were 80 years+. I would have imagined that as a slave, living conditions on the plantations were sub-par. Anyone else think it’s surprising?

    • Avatar of lagunacat

      Yes, I too was struck by the ages! I am sure many of them had strong constitutions which helped with longevity and also this was before the days of cancer inducing products and fast food joints. These are powerful portraits!

      ReplyReport user

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