Thursday, October 24, 2013

Family Record

While watching the latest PBS documentary by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, The African Americans - Many Rivers to Cross: The Black Atlantic (1500-1800) last evening online, my attention was captured when one of the guests mentioned that slaves were often kept from having last names for a reason. By not giving the enslaved people a surname it kept them from having a grounded understanding of who they were or who they came from.

That idea resonated when I came across the above illustrated family history chart which was printed by Krebs Lithographing Company of Cincinnati and was designed by H. W. Cowell of Martin, Tennessee "for the colored people of America."

Likely printed in the 1880s the lithograph shows an African American family in the center enjoying a happy home life. Below the center picture are two contrasting images, "Before the War" and "Since the War." Before the war shows a plantation owner or overseer with a whip and dog instructing a group of enslaved men and women working what looks to be a tobacco field while signs of wealth such as a carriage and big house occupy in the background.  The since the war image shows the fruits of free labor, which includes leisure time and a modest home, both of which come through hard work and frugality.

Framing the colorful images are 12 places for individuals' names to be written and the dates of marriages and deaths to be recorded for posterity to know their ancestors and thus feel a stronger sense of respectable citizenship and equality.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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