Little Known Black History Fact: White Slave Children

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  • President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary order for the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Although by January 1st the document was signed, it was a few years before black freedom was recognized in the South.

    One of the first tools for change was education. Now that former slaves could be taught to read and write, funding was needed for the schools. In New Orleans, abolitionists sold pictures that showed very light-skinned mixed-race slave children longing to read. To the naked eye, the children appeared to be Caucasian.

    The 25-cent photos were taken and distributed in the mid to late 1860’s in order to draw more money and sympathy from rich whites in the North for the black slaves of New Orleans.  The children were posed in ways that would be ‘appealing’ to sympathetic whites. The National Freedman’s Association, the American Missionary Association and officers from the Union Army fostered the propaganda.

    Four mixed-race children were used in the pictures, like 11 year-old Rebecca Huger, who had worked in her father’s home during slavery. She was carefully seated next to patriotic symbols of freedom while the caption read “Oh, how I loved the old flag.”  The other children were Charles Taylor, Rosina Downs and Augusta Broujey. In a few of the photos, the children were paired with darker-skinned slaves, or former slaves, then sent on publicity tours raise monies.

    The signs even sometimes read “White and Black Slaves” to build a sense of urgency among whites. The photos sometimes went into detail about the slave’s life and ownership. For instance, Wilson Chinn, an older dark-skinned slave was described as 'about 60 years old' with the initials of his former 'owner' branded on his head with a hot iron. There were stories of cuts and lashes on the bodies of the slaves in the picture to build sympathy. There were also stories of progression and education for some of the children, highlighting their ability to learn like that of white children.

    The U.S. Library of Congress currently holds many of the photos.

    Click here to view photos of the white slave children.

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