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Gadsden Shoppers: 1940

December 1940. "Christmas shopping crowds. Gadsden, Alabama." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

December 1940. "Christmas shopping crowds. Gadsden, Alabama." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Not only today

They say most cars today look basically the same. I guess that could apply to most of the cars in this photo too.

Visitor: A Yankee!

The third car up from the bottom highlighted in a previous comment displays a 1940 Massachusetts plate. And wouldn't it satisfy a bit of curiosity to discover the plate's owner in the MA registry of motor vehicles (assuming the archives go that far back)?

Re: Fur in Alabama?

Being from the South in my youth, until I married at 19 and moved North with my new husband at 20 when he got out of the Air Force, and growing up around plenty of older, well-to-do Southern Ladies, I seem to recall that the biggest rule of proper dress had little to do with the temperature, as long as the season was right!

As long as it's not hot enough to cause a lady to "glow" - gentlemen "perspired," and horses would "sweat" - then a properly dressed upper class lady, (providing she owned one, which one couldn't be a proper lady without one) wouldn't be seen in public without her fur coat, (and matching or coordinating hat!)

Albert McKinley Rains (1902-1991)

Rains was born in Grove Oak, DeKalb County, on March 11, 1902, to Elbert and Luella Rains; he had three siblings. He attended local schools and after graduating high school attended John H. Snead Seminary in Boaz, Marshall County. Rains went on to attend present-day Jacksonville State University and the University of Alabama. He studied law, passed the bar exam in 1928, and practiced alongside his brother Will Rains at the firm of Rains and Rains in Gadsden the following year.

New legal partner?

I was waiting for one of the Rains legal partners to leave, and a new partner to come on board: Pours.

Sneak peek

The briskly walking elegant lady, bottom left, in the dark coat has what can only be described as a well-turned ankle ... and the overalls-clad gent with the package under his arm might have noticed it. Also Rains & Rains lawyers ... that's pretty funny. Must've been plaintiff attorneys, perhaps collaborating on larger cases with Monin & Gronin, Attorneys at Law.

Here and now...

There are so many other possibilities as to who or what caused the gentleman to turn his head. Should we dox his descendants and make sure they pay for his vile transgression that is so clearly explained from a shutter click 80 years ago. Bag the drama, please.


Most of the cars seem to have the proper Alabama plates for the time, but the third car up from the bottom is an out-of-state car, though I do not know from where.


Interesting how much cars of the same vintage -- no matter the make -- tend to look so similar.

Fur in Alabama

Sure doesn't look cold enough for fur, based on the dress of everyone else.

Dan Cohen is selling Hoes?!

And on Broad Street, no less.

I want to respond to sinking_ship and his "Bag the drama" comment. Yes, there are possibilities as to what exchange is taking place; but there is also probability. Most who have commented believe the black man is probably being insulted. And just as he is not looking at his white antagonist, the antagonist's friend is also looking straight ahead, without expression. I read that to mean he wants no part of what his friend is doing. And you ask does any of this affect you? -- it does, because all of us today need to accept and acknowledge that we cannot treat minorities the way our grandpas did.

Why are you looking at these old photographs if you feel no compassion for the subject matter?

A classic look

That guy in the fedora near the bottom of the photo, second in from the curb, is displaying one of my favorite "looks" from that era, with the leather jacket and the khakis and the hat. That will never not look "cool."


In the lower left corner, there is a White man who appears to be making a comment to Black man as they pass each other. One wonders about what is being said, in 1940's Jim Crow Alabama.

The South in the 1940s

The first thing I noticed was in the foreground, the fellow in the coveralls with his back to us. The look the guy on his right is giving him ... To me, it's very chilling.

Can't see Gadsden for the trees

Here's the approximate place - it's hard to see because of the trees planted sometime after 1940. Sterchi's Furniture was at Fifth and Broad, and we can see the Belk-Hudson (Hughes 1903) building with the curved windows on the right (all white in the original).

Fur real

Woman wearing fur #1 (her head is immediately to the right of Rains & Rains Lawyers) is turning to check out woman wearing fur #2 (just above Use Stair Way). The real challenge (aside from identify all the cars) is: identify fur #2.

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