Historic Images: African-American Farmers

The images in this blog post are part of the Library of Congress Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives Collection. While items in this collection are in the public domain and are free to use and reuse, please visit loc.gov for access and crediting information.

repaying loan
In Oxford, a Granville County farmer repays the rehabilitation loan to help save his land. (Photograph by Arthur Rothstein; Dated October 1936.)

Photographs give an extraordinary glimpse into ordinary lives, and these historic images from the Library of Congress are an example. They capture pivotal moments in time for African American farm families living in Wake, Granville, and Person counties during the Great Depression. They are pieces of heritage not often seen.

“As we’ve heard the stories and as we’ve told them, we’ve created our own mental images of what it was like… the way our ancestors were feeling, what they were thinking, the expressions on their faces, what they were wearing, their physical surroundings, and even the aromas that permeated the air.”

Those words were written by local author Patricia A. Perry while tracing six generations of her own African American ancestors in rural Wake County, and they get straight to the heart of what’s special about these photographs.

The images are up close and personal. They peek into the daily routines of real, hardworking people. Some owned land, others farmed as tenants or sharecroppers. Some were grandparents, others were young mothers and fathers. Some were children already working to help their families stay afloat. The expressions, the clothing, the tools, the smiles–they’re all here.

This collection came about thanks to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was designed to assist people in rural areas as they worked to get out of debt, revitalize their farms, and get back in their feet.

To create a visual record of these changes in the lives of struggling farmers, photographers traveled the country and took pictures.

The resulting images document the hardships of life. The artists who snapped them include Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein, and Jack Delano.

Although the people in the photographs are not often named, they played a significant role in shaping our local farms and communities. As residents, farmers, and African Americans, they made a difference in our history.

Noontime chores: Mother and child feeding the chickens on a tenant farm in Granville County.  (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
As the father of a sharecropper family working a six-acre farm, this 69-year-old Person County man sat on his porch and said, “Land is like folks. It gets tired and needs a rest.” (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This Granville County home was built in two parts. The right half was constructed hurriedly after a tornado in 1900 destroyed all the houses in the section. The left half was built later. The photographer noted that one of the daughters came to the doorway but the rest were hiding. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This photograph of a farmer with his first child was taken at Hillside Farm in Person County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
It was noon when this Granville County family watered their mules at a well across the road. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
Noontime chores included feeding the pigs on this Granville County Farm, grandchild looks on. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This is the grandson of the farmer doing his noontime chores. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This photograph was captioned only as the daughter of a tenant farmer, in Granville County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
Porch of tenant house where a woman sits among household equipment in Person County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This Wake County farmer had constructed a makeshift carport as shelter at one side of his house. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
Two mothers (noted as related) with their children in a home on a Wake County tobacco farm. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
A young sharecropper wife with her child in a cornfield beside their house in Person County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
The son and grandson of a Granville County farmer bringing in the mules for water near a field. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
At this farm in Granville County, a young boy was photographed helping by stringing tobacco. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
This farmer’s wife was photographed on the porch of her house near Stem in Granville County. (Photograph by Jack Delano; Dated May 1940.)
Neighbors and tenant farmers eating
Dinner after a day of corn-shucking at the Wilkins property near Stem in Granville County. (Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott; Dated November 1939.)
sharecropper family on wagon near Shoofly
A farmer and his children leaving home through the pine woods after a morning of work at the tobacco farm where they were stringing and putting up tobacco near Shoofly, Granville County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)
The sons of a local farmer go off visiting on a Saturday afternoon in Granville County. (Photograph by Dorothea Lange; Dated July 1939.)


  1. What a remarkable collection of photographs. I’ve seen many of the NSA images, including others by Lange, but these were new to me, and each one highly memorable. Thank you!

Comments are closed.