Black Victoriana: Part Two

African American men I received an overwhelming response to the blog post Black Victoriana, so I decided to post more photos of African Americans from way back when.  My Black Victoriana post, to date, has received the most views and comments of any other blog post that I have ever done since starting my blog in 2011.  My other posts do not even come anywhere near the views and comments that Black Victoriana has received.  My main reason for posting those photos is because I wanted people to see African Americans from the late 19th and early to middle 20th century in a different light.  It is a way that is how we represented ourselves daily back in the day.  We are not a group of people who mostly grew up in ghettos, turned to drugs and did not care about educating ourselves.  The reality was quite the opposite. Continue reading →

African Americans – Photographed by Frances B. Johnston

3c23937vI was very pleasantly surprised to find so many photographs of African-Americans attending school during the late 19th century and early 20th century.  These photographs are all in the Library of Congress.

You will notice how nicely dressed the students are. Continue reading →

Vintage African American Portrait Photographs

Periodically I will post vintage photographs featuring African-Americans.  I love looking at old vintage photos and ephemera.  What I have found lacking though are African-Americans in collectible vintage photographs.  Slowly the tide is turning and images of African-Americans from “back in the day” are popping up.  I feel that these old photographs are important because it gives the present generation a clearer view of black people during the 19th century on up to the 1970’s.
The following photographs are specifically portraiture images.  I love everything about these photos from the stylish clothing to the expressions on their faces.
I am very thankful for the invention of the camera and for the talented photographs who took these pictures for posterity.

James Van Der Zee – Harlem Renaissance Photographer

James Van Der Zee

I had to dedicate a post to Harlem Renaissance photographer James Augustus Joseph Van Der Zee.  Born on June 29, 1886 in Lenox, Massachusetts, James Van Der Zee became the most sought after photographer during the Harlem Renaissance period.  James Van Der Zee moved to Harlem in 1906.  He held a series jobs which included developing photos at Gertz Department store.  Van Der Zee also played in the John Wanamker orchestra and Fletcher Henderson’s band.

James’s parents John and Elizabeth Van Der Zee worked for President Ulysses S. Grant.  James played several musical instruments, but the camera became his claim to fame.  James Van Der Zee took more than 75,000 photographers of Black American life during the Harlem Renaissance.  The great migration of Black America to Harlem began in 1915.  Black people moved to Harlem from the southern states and some came from the West Indies.  The Van Der Zee photo collection is the most extensive depicting every day life in Harlem, New York.

     James Van Der Zee is on the far left of this photo.
 Black Jews in Harlem
Dancing girls
 Large classroom
 The Cotton Club in Harlem, new York
Elegant couple in Harlem, New York

Marcus Garvey in Harlem parade.

Dance studio

The beginning of the great migration


Christmas morning 1933.  Notice the beautiful architectural details in this gorgeous Harlem brownstone.  Homes like this will never be built again.

Interior Harlem home

On the beach in Atlantic City New Jersey.

The Negro League (The Black Yankees)

Beauty salon

1920’s parade on 7th Avenue in Harlem, New York

James Van Der Zee staging a photo taking session.

Marcus Garvey is standing on the right hand side.

Harlem New York

Woman in Harlem home.  Her interior surroundings are beautiful and elegant.


Wedding reception

Portrait Photography
The Barefoot Prophet

 Girl in fancy dress 1938

James Van Der Zee’s studio was located on the east side of Lenox Avenue between 123rd and 124th Streets.  It was called G.G.G. Studio.    It was in the above ground basement of a Harlem brownstone.

 G.G.G. Studio

Today the exterior of tyhe studio can still be seen but one of the G’s is missing.

 James Van Der Zee

James Augustus Joseph Van Der Zee and his wonderful legacy of photographs were not “discovered” until 1969 when The Metropolitan Museim of Art held an exhibition of his photographs called Harlem On My Mind.  The exhibition brought Van Der Zee fame and much deserved accolades throughout America.  Van Der Zee had already retired several years prior to the exhibition but came out of retirement to resume taking photographs again until his passing on March 15, 1983.

American society is much in debt to James Van Der Zee for chronicling in photos a huge part of the Black experience over six decades.  Van Der Zee’s photos contradicts the way many people think of people of color.  The photos depict the elegance and beauty of Black America which contradicts notions of us all living in urban squalor and poverty.
 For decades during the late 1800’s and throughout the 20th century black people embraced the etiquette, elegance and importance of education of the Victorian and Edwardian period.  Evidence of this is clearly captured in the photographs of James Van Der Zee.
 This book has many precious James Van Der Zee photographs.  You can purchase it on from private sellers.  Most of the copies are very expensive but there are some copies left at very reasonable prices.  I paid $19.33 yesterday for a brand new copy.

Black Victoriana

I was curious about the subject of black people during the Victorian era.  The Victorian era was from 1837 to 1901.  A Google search revealed some of the most beautiful photographs of people of African descent during the Victorian period.  I am thrilled that these photographs were taken for posterity.  It is nice to see people of color so well dressed and put together for those times.  These photographs are very important because they document an aspect of black history that is generally never spoken of.

 This is a photo of Lady Sarah Bonetta Forbes Davies.  Sara was born in West Africa and subsequently captured during the slave trade.  Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy gave her the name Sara Forbes.  Sara was taken to England and given to Queen Victoria.  The Queen immediately noticed that Sara was exceptionally intelligent, and so she took Sara under her wing.  Queen Victoria raised Sara as her god-daughter within the British middle class.

 When Sara was 20 Queen Victoria sanctioned her marriage to Captain James Davies in August of 1862.  Captain Davies was a Yoruba businessman.   Sara and James had a daughter who whom they christened Victoria and she became the god-daughter of Queen Victoria.

When Sara was brought to England as a young girl she developed a cough caused by the climate change.  Sara was never able to rid herself of this cough and passed away at age 37 of tuberculosis.

Portraits of black Victorian ladies.

 Helen Louise Johnson and Agnes Marion Edwards taken in 1870.
Identified as  Lottie Campbell

Unfortunately, I have not been as successful locating photographs of black Victorian males.  I came across only a few.


I will be searching for this book for purchase. (UPDATE:  I did NOT get these photos from this book)

I hope that you enjoyed these precious photographs.