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My grandmother, her mother, and her grandmother all grew up sharecropping in Alabama. When I think about what that life must have been like for the woman I called “Nanny,” I imagine a much younger image of her face and body, standing in a field with a scarf on her head, picking cotton in the sun, never complaining and knowing that things would get better someday. Oddly enough, though, when I come up with this picture it’s always in black and white.

The Library of Congress hosts a Flickr photo set of rare color photographs of rural American life from 1939-1941. The entire country was still recovering from the Great Depression but black folks had always had it bad. While these photographs show how hard life was picking cotton and tobacco, living in shacks, and always seeming a few harvests away from getting out of a tenant arrangement, they also show the joy of sharing life with each other that lies right beneath the surface. Check out a few of the more compelling ones:

Photographed by Marion Post Wolcott in August 1940.

Photographed by Marion Post Wollcott in August 1940.

Tenant Home, Mississippi, Photographed by Marion Post Wolcott in September 1939.

Living Quarters and "Juke Joint" in Florida, Photographed by Marion Post Wollcott in February 1941.

See more at Flickr.

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  • love this!

    Great pictures!

    A lot of young people need to be reminded of how our people use to live. So many of our young people are unaware of this. I think if they knew more about what our people went though, then they would get their act together and take advantage of the opportunities that they have in America.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    they had color film in 1940?

    • Georgia

      Some color photo processes date back to the 19th century, but commercially available film didn’t come until the early/mid twentieth century.

      I think African Mami is referring to the Gullah Culture in the Sea Islands.

  • This is awesome

    Thank you for posting this! Seeing photos in the LOC collection helps us to recall African Americans in the American history and understand the African American diaspora. And I agree the life seems more real in color.

  • Wuluwulu

    How did I miss this? I think it needs to be re-posted and sent to the top of the heap. I am loving it.

  • Bunny

    This is my mom’s family, for sure! I need to show this to her