These photos of upper-class black Victorians show history isn’t just white

Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress
Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress

For all of those who think that black people, and non-white people in general, were doing nothing in the past except being poor servants or street beggars, this post is for you. You are the prime people who need to view these amazing photos of black Victorians living and thriving in 1800s America and beyond.

Upworthy has posted 17 images of black Victorians that should leave everyone viewing them filled with a bunch of good emotions. One of my favorite images is this one:

Image from Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress.
Image from the Thomas E. Askew/Daniel Murray Collection/Library of Congress.

I have a kinship with this girl, simply because we both have the same kind of hair. If her experience has been anything like my experience, she’s suffered the “Exotic” card a lot. I understand why you’re looking off into the distance with a long-suffering look on your face, girl. I get it.

There are two major takeaways to glean from these photos:

1. Nearly everyone, if not all subjects photographed, are of the upper-middle and upper-upper set.

Taking photography during the 1800s was still a luxury activity. When you did go take a photo, you went in all of your finery, to show off your wealth (or, if you were of the lower class, you were showing off that you had saved up enough money to splurge). Most of the people in these photographs have titles—Rev. Hiram R. Revels, the first black person to serve in the U.S. Senate, humanitarian and activist Eartha Mary Magdalene White, debutante Nellie Franklin, soprano opera singer Marie Selkia Williams, who became the first black performer at the White House, Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first black man to serve a full term in Senate, Yoruban princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was raised as Queen Elizabeth’s goddaughter and future wife of rich Nigerian businessman Capt. James Pinson Labulo Davies, etc.

Also of note; some of the subjects in the photos are from northern Florida (one woman is from Tallahassee). Florida, specifically northern and north-central Florida, is home to several historically black towns, in which black wealth and status could flourish. That’s not to say that there weren’t rich black people in other parts of America, because there were. But there’s a history lesson within the pictures that is worth learning about.

Related article: ‘Black Wall Street’ Being Brought to Life by John Legend and Tika Sumpter | Ebony.com

2. History doesn’t just revolve around white people. 

The thing that’s most annoying about historical dramas or even high fantasy like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones is when people say, “black people weren’t in these areas during this time.” First, fantasy isn’t real, so anyone can be anywhere. Secondly, history has always included other people apart from white people. It’s just that the tellers of history have often skewed the conversation to only focus on white, Western accomplishments.

These pictures show that there’s a larger story about America and the world that too few people know about. We should all know about Sarah Forbes Bonetta. We should all know about Eartha Mary Magdalene White, Marie Selkia Williams, Blanche Kelso Bruce, and many more. The fact that these photos are as revolutionary as they are only goes to show just how startlingly rare it is to see black stories outside of a very controlled, slavery-centric context. Everyone should get to know what life really looked like throughout history; not every moment revolved around what a white person is doing.

Visit Upworthy and check out the article; you’ll be glad you did.