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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • EAT MORE FISH, 1917

The Little Sepia Schoolhouse: 1905

The Little Sepia Schoolhouse: 1905

A schoolhouse, schoolmarm and students circa 1905, "possibly in South Carolina." View full size. Gelatin silver print by Detroit Publishing.

 

Pride and Prejudice

I agree with the comment above about the relative affluence of these children.

I have a photo from around the same date that is of my great grandmother with her students outside of a one-room school house in rural Indiana. Her students are white but poor. The school house is much more ramshackle. The children have all been put in their Sunday best for the picture but none of them are dressed as well as these children; many have out-grown their well-worn clothes and some of them don't have shoes.

The pride you see in the faces in this photograph is that of a community that has succeeded in spite of terrible oppression. Their parents created this incredible picture of success out of the ruin of reconstruction.

These children are the first African American middle class. They were the leaders in their communities. They also understood the responsibilities that came with their relative privilege.

We are looking at the children (and the wonderful image of that teacher who inspired those children) who grew up and achieved positions in American society that made Brown vs Board of Education possible. They were the ones who created the Harlem Renaissance. And they were the respected elders of the Civil Rights movement.

It is truly an extraordinary and inspiring photograph.

The Little Sepia Schoolhouse - 1905

Previous poster Joe Manning said:

"This is a beautiful photo. Look at the pride in the face of the teacher on the right. This was 1905, and most of these children would have been around 60 years old when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down, and another 10 years before the Public Accommodations and Voting Rights Acts were passed. For another sixty years after this photo was taken, this country still, by law, condemned these lovely young Americans to second-class citizenship. Think of what the potential talents of these children might have contributed to world in the 20th century, had we given them an equal chance."

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment Manning expressed here, and appreciate you @ Shorpy for sharing this photo with those of us obsessive history buffs.

I want to thank you at this site for your inspiration...through your site, I was led down a path that I believe may inform future generations of the injustices of racially-based school segregation. When I stumbled upon the picture of High Bridge (near Farmville, Virginia) I left a comment, and went about finding more pictures of that location via Google Image Search. As I stated in that comment thread, I was raised very near that area. While looking for pictures of High Bridge, I stumbled on a site containing a picture of my mother's high school in Farmville.

The site dealt with the inequities of facilities used for education during the period leading up to the 1960s for black children vs. white children. My white mother attended a good, well-maintained school with good amenities and opportunities, but black children of that time period, and leading up to the mid-60s were not so fortunate.

Farmville, Virginia...located in Prince Edward County...has a very unfortunate distinction in the United States. When school integration was mandated by the Federal Government in the 1950s, Prince Edward refused to comply, being the lone holdout in the entire nation, opting to close its school doors for FIVE FULL YEARS, rather than having their white students learn alongside their black counterparts. From 1959-1964, Prince Edward Schools were out of operation, but not before the white leadership and business leaders in that community opened a whites-only Academy, and so their children's education largely went uninterrupted during that dubious period in American history.

Black children in so many areas of the country were sorely disenfranchised back in those days, but even hardline racial areas like Montgomery, AL and Memphis, TN ultimately complied with orders to integrate schools...how audacious and backward for one lone county in Central Virginia to deprive its youngsters of educational opportunities, as well as basic human dignity (the schools in which black children were expected to learn PALE IN COMPARISON to the structure shown above, nearly 60 years prior...being mere sheds or shacks with dilapidated walls, shamefully inadequate heating, and no indoor plumbing...even heading that close to 1960.)

Your site touched off a lengthy research session, and I feel like I am now called to do something with the knowledge I have gained through reading and viewing many historical photographs that very explicitly draw stark comparisons to the quality of education afforded whites, and the woeful excuse for an education that blacks were expected to accept. I want to write a book, and make sure that the history of this time period does not go largely forgotten or unknown. So many people, even in my own community (we were taught NOTHING of this issue in my school, and I began school in 1982 and graduated in 1995) have no knowledge of the events which took place, and their VERY SIGNIFICANT role in the Civil Rights Movement, in regards to the school integration issue.

So important was the fate of Prince Edward County, that both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the community, and John F. Kennedy, the sitting president at the time, addressed the situation that was unfolding there. How interesting that I was raised in the area and found out into my adulthood about things. It was an ugly time and an infamous distinction for the county to have, and I guess how they handled it after the fact, was to sweep it under the rug and never give yet another thought to it.

I believe, as with the events of the Holocaust, and of 9/11, that the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement should NEVER be forgotten, and that the full story should be brought into the forefront of American History books. Our children today deserve to know about the foundations of thier country, no matter how dark and unpleasant they may be...

Your site brings many historical unpleasantries to the public eye, such as your site's namesake, Shorpy, and the plight of other young workers during the early part of the 20th century...as well as other significant, but untold stories. Your work here is to be commended, because a picture is INDEED worth a thousand words.

Keep up the fine work, and save some of that Taster's Choice for me....I'm gonna need it!

Naive?

Great photo. Although I agree wholeheartedly with the previous posters, I would say that these are not your typical Southern sharecroppers' children. These kids may have had half a chance. They are all dressed in fine clothes and are all wearing shoes. I think that in itself says a lot. I believe even the schoolhouse tells that this was a different sort of community. I'm guessing these kids were given more opportunities than most African American children of the day. One can hope?

Bless them all

So pure, so innocent, I truly hope they had a good life, although I'm sure it wasn't an easy life during that time in South Carolina.

Little Sepia Schoolhouse

This is a beautiful photo. Look at the pride in the face of the teacher on the right. This was 1905, and most of these children would have been around 60 years old when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down, and another 10 years before the Public Accommodations and Voting Rights Acts were passed. For another sixty years after this photo was taken, this country still, by law, condemned these lovely young Americans to second-class citizenship. Think of what the potential talents of these children might have contributed to world in the 20th century, had we given them an equal chance.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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