Maids in Greenville, SC

February 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

I was surprized to find online a group of unpublished photographs by Margaret Bourke-White of African American residents in Greenville, SC, which is my hometown. 

From the internet, “In 1956 LIFE magazine dispatched reporters and photographers to the American South to explore how the emotionally and politically charged issue of segregation manifested itself at a time when the Civil Rights movement was barely in its infancy. Here, LIFE presents rare and previously unpublished pictures by the legendary Margaret Bourke-White, who shot in Greenville, South Carolina, for one segment of a monumental five-part series, “The Background of Segregation” — a segment focusing on Greenville citizens from different walks of life who wholeheartedly supported segregation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

An African-American maid prepares a white family’s supper in Greenville, SC, 1956.

“In photographs that, at times, convey an unsettling intimacy, Bourke-White’s work opens a window on an era that, for better and for worse, helped define 20th century America. There is courage to be found in these images, and dignity, and weakness, and a cruelty that — in the guise of a patronizing benevolence — shaped the destinies of black and white America for decades to come, and echoes in our national conversation even today.”

One of the things that strikes me about the photograph is that the white family’s kitchen is quite modest.  I remember just about everyone of any economic class in Greenville had a maid.  The salaries of the black housekeepers were sinfully low .

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