Believe it or not, Black Victorians were a thing. They did exist despite what our history books have taught and shown us. I must admit, until I started educating myself and went to college, I subconsciously pictured only white Victorian ladies and gentlemen dressed in dapper clothing. I had to un-train and retrain myself to imagine people who looked like me during an era that wanted to eliminate, dismantle, and disregard the black community. I haven’t done a ton of research on this era, but I know that Black Victorians most likely traveled from England, but not every image below portrays a black Briton.
As I mentioned in my Collecting Is Important blog, African Americans do not have the luxury to easily trace their history due to a lack of documentation and the purposeful destruction of our history. With that being said, when documentation or any archival material is presented, there is still ambiguity and lack of information. Most of the individuals photographed are unnamed.
I’ve dedicated this entry to the lovely black men and women that are often forgotten. These images showcase African Americans in a different light during this time. They are not in shackles, nor do their faces exhibit fear or worry. Instead, their faces show pride, assertiveness, and ownership of their identity. Is it weird that I can also feel a sense of melancholy in some of the images?
Some of these photos were taken when slavery persisted, so capturing and documenting African Americans as actual figures of society was not a priority. Although nameless in the photographs, these images of a forgotten people are aesthetically and educationally pleasing. I came across these images through a quick internet run. Image credit goes to the multiple archive sites I visited when I traveled down this research rabbit hole.
Well Documented Black Victorians
Mary Jane Grant Seacole was a nurse in the British Empire during the 19th Century. In 1850, Mary Seacole resided in Panama, where and her brother ran a hotel for travelers bound for Gold Rush California.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta born into a Royal West African dynasty, was kidnapped during a British slave hunt expedition in 1848. She was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift.”
Despite the challenges during this time (child labor, slavery, capitalism), just to name a few, African Americans tried to maintain a sense of being. I’m so glad I had this dress just laying around the house (JK).
I felt like my ancestors wildest dreams!
I refuse to let the “forgotten” go unmentioned.