Rare Photograph of Slave Children Hits the Internet

Taylor Media Services | 7/16/2010, 11:14 a.m.

Photo Courtesy of Black History Journal

One of the most popular items on the internet last week was "haunting" 150-year-old photograph of a black slave child named John sitting barefoot on a barrel wearing ragged clothes and with a facial expression which combined fear, anger and wonder. Sitting next to him is a smaller unidentified slave boy.

The photo was found in the attic of a North Carolina home. It was accompanied by a document detailing the sale of John for $1,150.00. Art historians say the photograph is an extremely rare Civil War era photo of children who were either slaves at the time or who had been recently freed.

The photo, which may have been taken in the early 1860s, was a testament to a dark part of American history, said Will Stapp, a photographic historian and founding curator of the National Portrait Gallery's photographs department at the Smithsonian Institution.

"It's a very difficult and poignant piece of American history," he said. "What you are looking at when you look at this photo are two boys who were victims of that history."

New York collector Keya Morgan said he paid $30,000 for the photo album including the photo of the young boys and several family pictures and $20,000 for the sale document. Morgan said the deceased owner of the home where the photo was found was thought to be a descendant of John.