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detail from untitled photo by joseph a. horne, 1940s

This photo was taken by Joseph Anthony Horne during the 1940s as he worked for the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information.  As highlighted in a previous chapter of Interludes, he like many other photographers had been sent out across the country, under the direction of Roy Stryker, to capture the American experience. One of the areas that Horne captured on film was southeast Washington, D.C.,  an area not far from where his family lived and an area that was predominantly African American. The photos he took in that community were notable, for me, in part because there was no characterization or stereotyping. He simply photographed in a straightforward manner people living their daily lives. He, like many of the FSA photographers, was very good at that.  Otherwise in commercial media, unless it was an African-American specific publication, there was either no representation of “colored” people or it was often a mimicry.  Out of all the photos that Horne took in this community, I was especially struck by the series of photos of this little girl who had been positioned in front of the camera by a person who appeared to be her mother. No doubt she’d been placed in a best dress for the occasion. And its that dress that caught my attention.

There are people far more eloquent and scholarly than I who have written and who continue to write about how we as humans form our sense of self, our sense of self-worth, our sense of what is beautiful and our sense of how we individually fit within that definition of beauty.  This little girl is lovely and thoughtful. Her face clearly reads, who are you and what are you doing? The little face affixed to her dress is also lovely. Two different expressions of beauty.

This photograph was taken in 1905 and is located in the NYPL Digital Collection. I don’t know the context in which this photograph was taken though there is that accompanying caption suggesting to me that it was in a magazine and meant as a positive image highlighting how far African Americans had come in the 40-years since slavery and that a new generation would have even more success.  Too true as evidenced by the strength in that little girl’s face, and yet I am struck by the doll wrapped in her arm.  Growing up in the 1970s, I too had a lovely doll around which to wrap my arms and I enjoyed combing her blonde hair and wondering why it was so hard, in fact impossible, to braid her hair the way my mother braided mine. I grew up in a far different time than these two young girls but Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, published the year I was born, certainly resonated in my teenage years. I don’t remember ever wanting blue eyes but I think I wanted blonde hair (or maybe a lion’s mane).

These musings come to the fore because of a convergence of recent events, including having the opportunity to explore the imagery being made available through digital collections, seeing images of the past that had not been made widely available before, images that today have the potential to spark positive conversations about the past, present and future.

I recently pulled together research to tell two stories of one place.  One story focused on two sisters of great wealth whose lives are well-documented and whose enduring influences are often remarked upon.  The second story took great effort to pull together, of a gentleman whose image and good works I could only find because of the old texts and photographs being digitized and made available online.  The two sisters were white and the gentleman was black. They lived during the same time period and interacted in the same place.  When I printed my drafts and shared the stories with an elder (whose age I shall not share), she listened politely to the story of the two women but she took the story of the gentleman. We had a conversation and she said, “Cynthia, all my life I have heard about these women and the people like them. I never heard about this man. You keep doing your research. Why is it important? I want people to know that we were here. To know that we were a part of this place.”

Sources

https://www.loc.gov/item/owi2001000491/PP/

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “A little child shall lead them.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1906. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-9e16-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

 

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foreword to the interludes

interlude: genesis

Photo by Joseph Anthony Horne, 1940s

American Midwest photo by Joseph A. Horne, 1940s

In 1911, by the time baby Joseph was held in the arms of his adoptive parents in Dodge, Nebraska, Europe was on the brink of war.  The Great Powers in Europe were Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire had a foothold in Greece and some parts of the Balkans — an area of southeastern Europe encompassing Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzgovinia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

Bulgarian Shepherdess, photo taken between 1880-1924.

Bulgarian Shepherdess

Five Girls Knitting in Albania, 1923.

Five Girls Knitting in Albania

In 1912 and 1913, wars broke out in the Balkans.  Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia formed the Balkan League to oust the Ottomans.  In the U.S., recent emigrants from the Balkans returned to their native lands to bear arms in support.

Greek Emigrants in NYC Returning to the Balkans to Fight, 1912

Greek Emigrants in NYC Returning to the Balkans to Fight, 1912

In the end, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia conquered the Ottoman-held lands of Macedonia, Albania and Thrace. While nation-state lines had been redrawn; ethnic identities and affiliations had not changed.  Tensions simmered and flared, between the Balkan states, and with the Great Powers, especially between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

Belgrade, Serbia circa 1900-1915

Belgrade, Serbia circa 1900-1915

The antipathy between the neighboring countries was longstanding.  Prior to the Balkan Wars, Serbia, which had been dependent economically upon Austria-Hungary, was beginning to build its own economic channels across Europe.  When Austria-Hungary banned imports of Serbian pork in 1906, the Serbs continued to sell its pork to France but rerouted the meat through Bosnia.  In 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia from the Ottomans, and consequently shut down Serbian shipments of pork.  The Serbs appealed to Russia for support, but Czar Nicholas refused to go to war with Austria-Hungary.

Czar Nicholas and the Russian Royal Family, 1917

Czar Nicholas and the Russian Royal Family, 1917

Approximately five years later, after the Serbian success against Turkey in the Balkan Wars, the Serbian prime minister apparently declared, “The first round is won. Now for the second round – against Austria.”  In his book, scholar Richard C. Hall refers to the Balkan Wars as the Prelude to World War I.

Four children seated on a ship, following battle for Thessaloniki between Bulgaria and Greece, 1912.

Four children seated on a ship, following the battle for Thessaloniki in the Balkan Wars, 1912.

On June 28, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed by a young Serbian nationalist.  The assassination is cited as the event that started World War I but obviously it was the spark that fell upon a lot of pre-existing kindling.  Diplomatic relations between many of the European nations was strained and alliances had become complicated.  With Germany’s support, Austria-Hungary presented Serbia with some strict demands in reparations.  While Serbia made efforts to meet the demands, in the end, Austria-Hungary broke off diplomatic relations and began preparing for war.  Russia, Serbia’s ally, began military mobilization against Austria-Hungary.  Britain and France expressed concern if Russia were to intervene in such a conflict.  Attempts at peaceful negotiations were brushed aside.  On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Fighting began.  By August 1, Germany declared war on Russia.  Others joined the fray and soon every major Western power except for the United States was embroiled in war.

Packing for the Christmas Ship, November 1914

Packing for the Christmas Ship, November 1914

The majority of Americans, while aware of what was taking place in Europe, wanted to remain neutral.  Based on newspaper headlines and articles from the period,donations of every kind were collected and sent in support of allies like Great Britain, France and others.  The Red Cross Mercy Ship sailed to Europe with medical staff.  American children were encouraged to donate toys for the Christmas Ship, a vessel charged with delivering gifts by Christmas Day to needy European children.  The headlines also highlight the literal and figurative gulf separating Americans from the European conflict.  The U.S. was struggling with its own social, economic and political issues.  Even so the war was making an impression.

Suffragette Inez Milholland, suffragist, labor lawyer, World War I correspondent, and public speaker

Suffragette Inez Milholland, suffragist, labor lawyer, World War I correspondent, and public speaker

At the 1914 Southern States Suffrage Conference held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont of New York was questioned about men in Belgium receiving the vote but not the women.  She replied: “With men waging war on the earth, in the air, on the sea and beneath the waters … shelling cities and destroying everything before them, leaving women and children without a place to lay their heads, it is somewhat illogical to talk of woman’s sphere as the home. In my opinion, the men who deliberately make war on women and children as has been done in Belgium, are not fit to be intrusted with the ballot for it was created as the weapon of civilization and Christianity, not of wholesale butchery.”

Suffragette Mary Church Terrell, daughter of former slaves, civil rights worker, suffragette, teacher

Suffragette Mary Church Terrell, daughter of former slaves, civil rights worker, suffragette, teacher

At the conclusion of her address, Ms. Belmont was asked if she thought the vote for women in the South should include the vote being given to Negro women, as well.  She replied that should be a decision left to the men of the South to decide. “We seek for women political rights equal to those of men. Negro women could share the rights of Negro men. If they are disenfranchised let the women share the same treatment. Our campaign is to eliminate the discrimination against women and secure for them a parity with men in the matter of the right to vote.” (New York Times, November 11, 1914)

William Jennings Bryan, Rep. from Nebraska 1891-1895 and U.S. Secretary of State 1913-1915

William Jennings Bryan, Rep. from Nebraska 1891-1895 and U.S. Secretary of State 1913-1915

For several years, for many reasons, including a strong German American presence within the country, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention.  One of the most vocal anti-war proponents was President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.  He wanted the U.S. to maintain a neutral position and serve as mediator in the conflict.  “It is not likely that either side will win so complete a victory as to be able to dictate terms, and if either side does win such a victory it will probably mean preparation for another war. It would seem better to look for a more rational basis for peace.”  At odds with his President’s policies, Bryan would resign in 1915.

R.M.S. Lusitania, hit by torpedos off Kinsale Head, Ireland (photograph of drawing made for New York Herald and London Sphere)

R.M.S. Lusitania, hit by torpedos off Kinsale Head, Ireland (photograph of drawing made for New York Herald and London Sphere), Library of Congress

In 1917, after a series of events including the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland with Americans on board (1915) and discovery of the Zimmerman telegram in which Germany proposed a military alliance with Mexico against the U.S. (1917), President Woodrow Wilson and other Progressives were able to promote the concept that the U.S. had to help make the world safe for democracy.  On April 1, 1917 the U.S. officially declared war on Germany. On December 7, 1917 war would be declared on Austria-Hungary.  In the end, the war would pit the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan.  A national call for volunteers was made to join the military services.

Registering 1917, Library of Congress

Registering to Serve, 1917

The rate of enlistment for the volunteer army was too low, leading Wilson to sign the  Selective Service Act of 1917.  Over time, millions would be drafted into service.  Enlistment was even used as enticement to garner citizenship.  Tens of thousands of American men, of every race and background, began leaving daily for the battlefields of Europe.

World War I Infantry Soldiers, photographed between 1914-1918, Library of Congress

World War I Infantry Soldiers, photographed between 1914-1918, Library of Congress

At the same time, the formerly vast waves of immigration into the U.S. were effectively cut off.  A dearth of labor was created across the country just as industries were seeking to ramp up their production.  As a result, as one author phrased it, “an exodus ensued” as Northern and Midwestern manufacturers began recruiting for labor from the American South, especially for African Americans.  By 1919, nearly 500,000 African Americans had emigrated up north and out west. It would be a migration,  A Great Migration, that would continue into the 1940s.

Painting by Jacob Lawrence

Painting by Jacob Lawrence

Jobs and unexpected opportunities were created in an attempt to meet the demands of a nation and a world at war.  Wars do end, however, with WWI officially ceasing on November 18, 1918.  New opportunities arose as soldiers returned to the States, but tensions were heightened and prejudices magnified as well.

WEB Dubois in 1918, co-founder of the NAACP

WEB Dubois in 1918, co-founder of the NAACP

The summer and early fall of 1919, when Joseph would have been 8 years old, is known as Red Summer, a term coined by Joseph Weldon Johnson of the NAACP.  Race riots broke out in over two dozen cities across the U.S including in Omaha, NE, about an hour away from Dodge.  A black man was accused of assaulting a white woman and regardless of evidence a mob gathered and eventually the man was forcibly taken from police custody and brutally killed.  Actor Henry Fonda was a 14-year old boy in Omaha at the time.  He saw some of the events.  He later wrote that all he could think of was that black man dangling from a rope.

The burning of Will Brown's body, Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 28, 1919. Source — NSHS, RG2281-69

The burning of Will Brown’s body, Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 28, 1919. Source — NSHS, RG2281-69

Hundreds died that summer.  Many thousands lost their homes and livelihoods.  Seeds were sown for future conflicts.  And, no doubt, bonds were strengthened for future civil rights efforts.   A particular focus during the period, and for some decades to come, were campaigns against lynching. Lynching is a particularly color-blind act.  African Americans, while killed in large numbers, were not the only ones dying or being threatened with death in this horrific manner in the post-war period. Drawn to the U.S. in the late 1800s, German-speaking people from many different nations had emigrated seeking new lives.  Like little Joseph’s family, they especially migrated to the midwestern states to take advantage of the Homestead Acts.   The first act was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862.  Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government (including freed slaves and women), was 21 years or older, or the head of a family, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. There was also a residency requirement.  In Nebraska, the land being homesteaded had once been considered “Indian Country” but as the U.S. sought to expand its territory the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1954 opened the land to settlement.  The subsequent Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of this land to any head of household promising to live there for five years.

Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13. 1872.

Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13. 1872.

By 1910, approximately 200,000 residents of German heritage lived within the state of Nebraska.  Dozens of German language newspapers and other publications were regularly printed and distributed.  Cultural events conducted in German were the norm, not the exception.  All of this would change with U.S. entry into World War I in 1917.

German Russian Children in Nebraska

German Russian Children in Nebraska

German-American farm family. Lincoln County, Nebraska by John Vachon, 1938.

German-American farm family in Nebraska by John Vachon, Library of Congress.

In Joseph’s adopted home, he spoke German, though he would have been challenged in speaking German in grade school.  Language has always been viewed as key to ethnic identity.   With anti-German sentiment at a fever pitch, the suppression of German language and culture was viewed as paramount to ensure that all those people of German-speaking heritage became thoroughly Americanized.  President Wilson signed a bill restricting German newspapers.  Clergy in primarily-German speaking communities were informed they could only deliver sermons in English even if people spoke only German.

Classic German Script from a Vintage Book of Fairy Tales

Classic German Script from a Vintage Book of Fairy Tales

On April 9, 1919, Nebraska enacted a statute that would become known as the Siman Act, imposing restrictions on both the use of a foreign language as a medium of instruction and on foreign languages as a subject of study. Essentially no person in any public or private school could teach in any other language than English, and with respect to foreign language instruction, no child could be taught a foreign language until high school.

Example of one room school house in Nebraska, photographed 1938 by John Vachon

Example of one room school house in Nebraska by John Vachon, Library of Congress.

On May 25, 1920, instructor Robert T. Meyer broke the rules in his one-room schoolhouse in Zion Parochial School in Hampton, Nebraska by teaching to a 4th grader using a book of German bible stories.  He would be charged with violating the Siman Act and convicted at the state level.  Similar laws were being enacted across the country.  Meyer would fight his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the ruling would take on a national significance. In 1923, the Court would hold that the Nebraska statute violated the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment.  While respecting the state’s desire to “foster a homogenous people,” the court found that the state had gone too far with the statute.  With its ruling, the court made clear that “the individual has certain fundamental rights which must be respected.”

Farm scene. Lancaster County, Nebraska , photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

Farm scene. Lancaster County, Nebraska , photo by Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

By the time that ruling was made, Joseph was twelve years old.  Over the next five years, he would complete his grade school education.  In 1928, as a seventeen-year old, he would leave the family farm and Great Plains to travel eastward to study in a theological setting.  To become a seminarian as his path suggests?  If so, something happens along that path. He comes to a fork in the road. It is clear that at some point in the late 1920s or early 1930s, young Horne picks up a camera.  He will become adept at its use and he will begin to photograph the world around him.

Photo by Joseph A. Horne

Photo by Joseph A. Horne

Sources/Additional Reading …

History.com Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

William Jennings Bryan

Inez Milholland Boissevain

Mary Church Terrell

African Americans and World War I

Racial Tensions in Omaha September 28, 1919

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow/Red Summer 1919

History of the NAACP

W.E.B. Dubois

Oral Histories from the Germans From Russia Collection

War Hysteria & the Persecution of German Americans

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online

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As a child, I loved all literary critters from Stuart Little to Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  I also loved the feisty young heroes in books like Little House on the Prairie, The Black Stallion, The Secret Garden, The Swiss Family Robinson and so many more.   I wanted to be those young people and see the places described in those literary worlds.  Those young people and those stories helped to shape my initial views of my country, the world, and of myself.  I think I turned out okay. 😉  But I do recognize as writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserts in the following TED presentation how stories — or the communication of “a single story” — can have unexpected consequences at many levels.  In her eloquence on a thought-provoking topic, she raises both my awareness as reader and writer.  I hope you have a chance to view.

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