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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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