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Survivors

December 2023
1min read


Around 1900 a traveling photographer making his way through Heard County, Georgia, stopped at the home of Henry and Anna Jones. The couple dressed themselves and eleven of their thirteen children in their Sunday best and sat for a portrait. For their great-granddaughter Sharon Jones Richardson of Douglasville, Georgia, the result is eloquent:

“My memory of first viewing this picture as a child is extremely vivid. As my grandfather Whit (second from left, first row) proudly pointed out his sisters and brothers, I felt an immediate kinship with these people of long ago. I vehemently asked him why the younger children chose not to wear shoes for such an important event. He calmly answered that they had none: shoes were purchased for the children when they became old enough to work in the fields! A commodity I take for granted was a luxury to them.

“Great-grandfather Henry Jones was born a slave in Heard County, Georgia. At an early age he was sold by a planter, Mr. Hendricks, to a distant planter, Mr. Jones. Present family members are cautious not to marry anyone with the Hendricks surname for fear of marrying kin.

“Slave traditions have been passed down through the generations. Slaves cherished cheese, a delicacy given them only at Christmastime, and beginning Christmas Day with a serving of cheese was a ritual for my grandfather. Cheese is always on our Christmas breakfast table, lest we forget the past.

“In addition to farming and sharecropping, Great-grandpa Henry worked as a veterinarian, but the bulk of the family income came from Greatgrandma Anna’s work as a midwife. Aunt Bertha (far right, front row) led the family in the “field to factory” migration to the industrial North in the early 1920s, but those who followed her never forgot their Southern roots.

“Henry and Anna would be amazed at the successes of their offspring. Much has been said about the instability of the black family in America. But my family story illustrates—along with those of countless others—that our mere survival in and resistance to a harsh and sometimes cruel life confirms our stability.”

We continue to ask our readers to send unusual and unpublished old photographs to Carla Davidson at American Heritage, Forbes Building, 60 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011. Please send a copy of any irreplaceable materials, include return postage, and do not mail glass negatives. We will pay $50.00 for each one that is run.

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