When you look at old pictures of your family, you are giving a rare insight into their past. Whether these photos are of you, your siblings, your parents, your grandparents or many generations ago, you were taken back in time when life was simple.
Old photos tell you a story of life during happy moments or life during not so happy moments. Whatever the case might be, photos are a physical object of your history. For African Americans, the value of old photos can be an insight into their unknown history. It can tell the person many stories that their family did not share with them. For example, old photos could show what a house and a neighborhood looked like long ago. Photos of old transportation systems like the train can give you an idea of what the rail system was like decades ago, as well as early automobiles. Pictures of organizations and civil groups can tell you stories of the individuals who are in those pictures, including their social circles.
In this 1933 picture of a house at 214 Queen Street, you can tell that the house was well used. This house has a story to tell. The 200 block of Queen Street in 1933 was a working-class white neighborhood. The occupation of the people in that neighborhood were fishermen, merchants, laborers, janitors and painters. Just looking at the picture can give a person a visual history of what life was like in 1933. The neighborhood racial makeup started to change in the 1950s when African Americans moved in.
On two other photos, the 19th Century picture is an 1865 Presidential railcar of President Lincoln that was on the tracks in Alexandria, VA’s Train Station. This railcar transported his body when he was assassination.
The next picture is a 1941 picture taken during World War II in Alexandria on Richmond Hwy (US Hwy 1). This picture also shows tents and trailers. There was a housing shortage in Alexandria during World War II. This picture gives you a visual of what Richmond Highway was like in 1941.
Lastly, a 1956 picture of the Boy Scouts. Their leader was Mr. Nelson Greene of Greene Funeral Home. The children are standing in front of the American Legion William Thomas Post #129.
It is important that your family pictures get included in an archive so that future generations can learn your history through the pictures that you left behind. Today, it is easier and less expensive for anyone to make numerous copies of photos and donate those photos to local institutions.
The Alexandria Public Library is helping you to preserve your family history. They are having an Alexandria African American Family Reunion on April 29, 2023. They want you to come and bring your pictures with you. The library will scan the pictures and return them to you. In addition, you will receive copies of your pictures on a flash drive. Click on this link for additional information: https://mailchi.mp/alexlibraryva/newsletter-1108914?e=117c38ecbf.
Char McCargo Bah is a published author, freelance writer, independent historian, investigative/genealogist researcher and a Living Legend of Alexandria.