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Historical Documents
"Family Group ('The Hidden Witness')"

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This daguerrotype, "Family Group ('The Hidden Witness')" suggests the position black people held in antebellum society. Taken by Charles H. Fontayne and William Southgate Porter, in about 1848 or 1852, it is at first glance a simple portrait of a white family posing in front of their house. Yet upon closer examination, one sees that there is someone else in the picture -- in the background, an African American man leans against a tree, holding a shovel.

Was the man supposed to be in the picture? Does he realize that he is being photographed? Has he inserted himself in the scene purposely, to assert his presence? These questions are unanswerable, but one thing is clear. The man's background position is no accident. He is not considered important enough to join the group in front, but stands in the shadows.

Image Credit: Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California

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Related Entries:
Conditions of antebellum slavery

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