Monday, November 23, 2009

in the front row of the white folks' church

This is the eleventh post in a series on photos that Dorothea Lange took in the piedmont region of North Carolina in July 1939. See the other posts for background information about the series.*

On July 6, 1939, Lange and Margaret Jarman Hagood visited a farm being worked by a tenant family in Granville County not far from the small town of Wilton. They arrived around noon on this rainy Thursday and observed the family at work and rest. The family was headed by a man and wife and included plus seven of their own children and several adopted ones. Neither Lange nor Hagood recorded their names.

The wife Lange and Hagood know that she was not a stereotypically submissive African-American. They wrote: 'The mother goes to the white folks' church and sits in the front row. She wouldn't go if she had to sit in the balcony. She has lived right around here all her life. "Everybody knows me and I'm respected." "All the white folks think a heap of me. Mr. Blank wouldn't think about killing hogs unless I was there to help. You ought to see me killing hogs at Mr. Blank's."'

The house, having a story and a half, was relatively large and comfortable. There were two mules as well as pigs and chickens.

I couldn't find a photo of the front of the house; these two show the kitchen side and a bit of the back.

{LC caption: Noontime chores: feeding chickens on Negro tenant farm. Granville County, North Carolina}

{LC caption: same}

In this shot you can see out buildings for farm animals behind the house; the edge of the roof of the house is just visible on the right.

{LC caption: Noontime chores on Negro tenant farm. The grandfather and children off to feed the pigs. Granville County, North Carolina}

It's hard to say from the information provided or from the image itself, but it looks like the following photo might show the same place. Note that it has a breezeway "dog run" connecting the living quarters (left) with the kitchen-dining area (right). Lange's notes say he right half was built hurriedly after a tornado in 1900 which destroyed all the houses in the section. The left half was built later. She says "One of the daughters has come to the doorway, the rest are hiding."

I believe these two photos show the same woman as above, daughter of the husband and wife who head the family:

Here are the male head of the household with youngsters slopping the pigs:

Two details of this image:

Another photo of the pig feeding:

The next photo shows the grandson of the husband and wife who head the family:

The field notes that Lange and Hagood took during this visit record the following information from the mother: 'one of the grandchildren lives with her whose father is in the penitentiary for ten years because a Negro child was killed in an automobile accident he had with a white man. They went to court but the white man (whose fault it was according to the mother) went free, while her son got ten years. "There's no justice; you have to wait on the lord for justice; the Lord has the power." Her son was a good boy — "He is a bible student right."'

These two photos show the mules being watered at the well:

{LC caption: Noontime. Son and grandson of tenant farmer bring in the mules to water at noon. Granville County, North Carolina}

{LC caption: Noontime chores. Mules are brought in from the field and watered at well across the road from the house. Granville County, North Carolina}

This shot was taken a little later in the day as two sons go off visiting:

{LC caption: Sons of Negro tenant farmer go off visiting on Saturday afternoon. Granville County, North Carolina}



Photographs come from the Prints and Photos Division of the Library of Congress. Click to view full size. Captions come from LC staff using information provided with the photos.

The field notes are found in Daring to look: Dorothea Lange's photographs and reports from the field, by Anne Whiston Spirn (University of Chicago Press, 2008)



*Previous posts in this series:

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