Twenty-nine black kids standing there

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What it is:

Photo measuring 5 x 3 inches.

What I know about it:

Nothing!  Undated and unidentified.


I hesitate to refer to these kids as black kids (though, of course, they are) because I worry that it says more about my perspective than about who they are.  (After all, yesterday’s post was called “Woman from Mount Kisco, New York”, not “White woman from Mount Kisco, New York”.)  But I suspect it may actually be relevant here.  I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that this is the United States (please tell me if you think I’m wrong), and that this photo was taken in a time and place where they were experiencing segregation, among other things, which surely informed the lives of these children on some level.  So as I look at this photo to try to get a window into a different life experience (as I do with all these photos), I can’t help but think that the fact that all twenty-nine are black is somehow germane to the story being told here.  What other clues are there?  The clothing and books suggest school children, and perhaps Sunday School children.  This is, perhaps, at the edge of the school yard?  Someone with more expertise might be able to place the trees in a region, or confirm my suspicion that the low slant of the roof implies they aren’t someplace that gets a ton of snow.  This isn’t a neatly lined-up pose, and they mostly aren’t smiling, and yet the mood doesn’t feel confrontational.  Perhaps they were asked to stay a few minutes after school (hence the lack of smiles), and the photographer snapped a picture before anybody reminded them to say “cheese”?

12 comments on “Twenty-nine black kids standing there”

  1. Several of the boys are wearing suits, or what appear to be clothes that look a little dressy for school. That leads me to think that this is a more “formal” occasion – Sunday School, school promotion – or perhaps it is a class photo and the students prepared for the day by wearing better clothes to school.

    • They seem to show various levels of being dressed up, some nicer than others, but they seem to mostly be wearing a little nicer than casual play clothes. And some, as you say, look quite nice. The one near front and center with the hat is especially snazzy.

  2. what decade would you guess this is from? it is such a timeless image, i find it challenging to put it into perspective…

    thanks, as ever 🙂

    • Good question. I don’t know! Every time I look at it, I see something, usually an outfit, that makes me think it’s from a different decade than I previously thought, anywhere from the 1930s to the 1970s. If anybody else has any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them.

  3. This is an amazing photo! It pulls you in and simply makes you wonder: where are they? What were they thinking? How were their lives the same? And how were their lives different from each other? This is the kind of photo that I could look at for hours…

  4. At least two of the kids are holding books, which might imply an educational setting. As for the date, the only clue I spot is that at least two boys are wearing knickerbockers — I’m not sure when they went out of style, and kids might have worn them for a generation afterward as hand-me-downs.

  5. I just have no idea. Looks like a first day of school, perhaps at a recently built schoolhouse? There’s something that says “occasion” here.
    I’m not good at time periods, but it feels 1920s. There are only two pairs of saddle shoes (unless one pair is just dirty and tricking me), which also suggests 1920s. But the bobby socks all suggest 1940s or 50s. Brown v. Board of Ed was mid-1950s and there’s something about this that seems very distant from integration.
    Finally, those clothes do not suggest wartime rationing or belt tightening. I’m not suggesting these are upper class children; their clothing seems like their Sunday best (some handmade, some hand-me-down, some store bought). But still, seems post-war. So. 1946?

    • The general consensus seems to be that this picture is confusing. 🙂 I agree, it’s probably school-related, and I agree that there’s a sense of “occasion” about it. If it’s a church Sunday school, then its proximity to Brown v. Board of Ed would be less of a factor in determining the date. (And that’s assuming this is the U.S., and not, say, Haiti or something. I mean, probably not Haiti with those coats, but you know what I mean.) I’m delighted this picture has sparked so much curiosity and speculation, since that was my reaction to it, too.

  6. Hi! I wanted to check with you about possibly using this image for a documentary our non-profit organization is putting together. Could you please e-mail me or list your e-mail address so I could send you more info? Thank you!

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