Elephant ears

Caladium. Back of store.” Probably Friars Point, Mississippi, ca. 1920, by Milton McFarland Painter Sr., via Mississippi Department of Archives and History Commons on flickr (cropped slightly by me).

Milton McFarland Painter Sr. was a self-taught photographer from Coahoma County, Mississippi. He took at least 1,073 photos of his community and his vacation travels from about 1912 to the 1920s.

Life in gardens: Knoxville, Tennessee

dodson-front-yard-knoxville-tn-1899-library-of-congress“Home of C.C. Dodson, Knoxville,” Tennessee, ca. 1899, via African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Dodson was a jeweler who owned a shop on West Vine Avenue in 1899. ‘Exuberant’ is the word I would use for his family’s front yard.

The photos collected by W.E.B. Du Bois for the 1900 Paris international exhibition particularly featured middle-class African Americans and their homes and institutions. “The photographs of affluent young African American men and women challenged the scientific ‘evidence’ and popular racist caricatures of the day that ridiculed and sought to diminish African American social and economic success,” according to the Library of Congress’s online catalogue.

In 2003, the Library of Congress published a book of 150 of the images, entitled A Small Nation of People.  You can listen to a good NPR interview with its co-author, historian Deborah Willis, here.

The Sunday porch: Dyess Colony

Porch, Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1940, Library of CongressBeautiful elephant ears. This porch belonged to a farming family who were “resettled” in “Colonization Project No. 1” in Mississippi County, Arkansas.

The photos* were taken in August 1935 by Arthur Rothstein. He was on assignment for the U.S. Farm Security Administration.

Children, Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1940, Library of Congres

The government-sponsored agricultural community had just been established the year before — the brainchild of local cotton planter William Reynolds Dyess, who was also Director of the Arkanasas Emergency Relief Administration.

Family, Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1940, Library of Congres

Dyess wanted to provide aid to displaced tenant farmers and sharecroppers. His idea was to put 800 families on 20 to 40-acre uncleared bottomland plots with new houses.

Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1940, Library of Congres

The project — scaled back to 500 families — was underwritten by the New Deal Federal Emergency Relief Administration. (It was absorbed by the Farm Security Administration in 1944 and made independent of the federal government in 1951. )

“The colony was laid out in a wagon-wheel design, with a community center at the hub and farms stretching out from the middle. . ,” according to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Each house had five rooms with an adjacent barn, privy, and chicken coop. . . , plus a front and back porch.”

Another Dyess Colony House, Arkansas, 1935, Library of Congress
Another colony house with a mass of flowers along the front path.

Dyess was killed in a plane crash in 1936, and the colony was given his name.

Among the resettled farmers — all of whom were white — was the father of country singer Johnny Cash.  Cash lived  in house #266 from the age  of three until his high school graduation in 1950.

Today, Arkansas State University has restored the Cash home (open to the public) and is working on an adjacent original colony home, as well as the administration building and theater.

Sharecropper's house, Dyess Colony, Arkansas, 1935, Library of Congress

The 1935 photo above by Ben Shahn was captioned, “Sharecropper’s house optioned. Dyess Colony, Arkansas.”  I’m not sure what that means, but the picture gives an example of original local farm housing.

I like the small semi-circle of trees and the two chairs facing out on the left side.


*All photos but the last were by Rothstein, taken in August 1935. All are via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.