Convention of Former Slaves

Published:February 11, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

IMAGE: Washington, D.C., 1916. “Convention of former slaves. Annie Parram, age 104; Anna Angales, age 105; Elizabeth Berkeley, 125; Sadie Thompson, 110.” National Photo Company Collection glass negative. (Shorpy)


23 Comments on “Convention of Former Slaves”

  1. alysia

    125 wow!!..just wish they would’ve included the order of the names -.- and may i just say how refreshing of a thought it is to know these women lived such long lives and their former “owners” were probably already DEAD or depressingly decrepit.

  2. kesha

    Wow, the difference in their diets compared to us today. Since they were poor, the did not have meat always as an option to eat. They ate alot of greens(vegetables) so their bodies maintained their healths. Our bodies are made up of organic matter so we should only be putting organic matter inside of them. Cancer is spreading fast. On top of this these ladies had hard lives. I hope their latter years were amazingly great unlike their slavery years.

  3. Patty

    I would like to see the birth certificates of these woman. The lady Elizabeth Berkeley, 125. Would have been born in 1791 to be photographed in 1916 at the age of 125. Being a slave; her diet would have been poor and much disease besides poor nutrition was rampant for those 100 & plus years she would have lived. Quote;Few slaves lived into old age. Between 1830 and 1860, only 10 percent of slaves in North America were over 50 years old. From;

    1. Myron

      Africa slaves were resilient in harsh conditions it was nothing for Africans to be well over 110. White people always had short life span. As far as the diet and disease Africans understood botany and alchemy. Inspite how the whites treated her, if you understood Ancient African history you wouldn’t be surprised.

    2. ron boone

      All of the things that you mentioned is what made these women remarkable. With all of these ‘facts’, that you introduced into evidence, I would think you knew that the number of slaves with birth certificates (an official document is public records) would be zero to none.

    3. Jay

      What you ask for isn’t possible because they didn’t give birth certificates to slaves because they were property. Plus, birth certificate and vital records not get a standardized system until 1902 in the United States

  4. Yolanda

    Slaves were not afforded birth certificates as whites during slavery as they were considered chattel. Documentation would be found in the books of the slave owner’s increase of property. It is possible that documentation was found in regards to all of the women as well as their consciousness.

  5. Teresa

    These Ladies were most likely Mammies= nannies who raised white children in the home. Mammies lived with the family or spent many hours a day in the home caring for children and perhaps cleaning and cooking also. If anything good could be said about south, it was the Mammy who nurtured it. Most of these professionals worked for several generations of the same family. Any family not wishing to care for their Mammy in old age was not a decent family.

  6. Jerald

    Patty^^^ you sound like a hater… that is a lie about slaves only living to 50 years. What didnt kill them or break them, only made them stronger. And all slaves didnt get sick like the members of masters family. There is a movie/autobiography called Miss Jane Pittman, who lived to 110. but that is right most older slaves past 65 did go to lighter duties or worked in the house. It was common for the family to take care of the elder slaves. 98% of births and marriages and deaths that happened on the plantation were recoreded in the plantation manifest. Birth Certificates did not start till 1914.

  7. Edouard

    “Bahá’u’lláh once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth.”—‘Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in The Advent of Divine Justice, pg 31. This observation seems particularly poignant with regard to this photograph and these women. Nobility, dignity, and perseverance are among the qualities summoned to mind by this photograph. 1916 was 53 years after the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). But as we now realize more clearly from our 21st Century vantage point, little changed during those 53 years in the arenas of racial discrimination, racial attitudes and race unity in America. These women probably still lived under the apartheid of the American South where all of their civil rights were circumscribed and many of their sons and brothers and husbands were re-enslaved under a new system of involuntary servitude abetted by a corrupt criminal justice system. (See Slavery by Another Name by Douglas C. Blackmon) Also they are women. 1816 to 1916 was not a century of light for females of any hue, even though the first rays of their emancipation were beginning to dawn. I was particularly struck by these women being dressed in their best finery for the period. It is an arresting and thought provoking photograph.

  8. George

    Jerald- Why is Patty a hater? So some one who is skeptical or questions the veraciity of some one’s statement is a hater. That doesn’t make sense. People- all people did not live long in the 18th and 19th centuries. Compound that with horrible working conditions, a poor diet, lack of any medical care, and you have a life expectancy that was around 50 years or so. The oldest woman who ever lived was 122 when she died in 1997. You seem to be re-writing history. There was yellow fever, dengue, smallpox, malaria, dysentery, an infected tooth could kill you back then. There was no modern sanitation, people were often infested with thousands of fleas at one time. Rats carried disease. It is highly unlikely that any human being could have survived for such a long time. This has nothing to do with race or politics. I also question this article’s accuracy.

  9. Brendan Wolfe Post author

    A couple of thoughts: many, possibly most, slaves did not know their birth year and were forced to guess about their ages. The women’s ages as listed above could be their own flawed guesses. If they were other people’s guesses and not their own—well, they certainly _look_ very old, which was often the case for people who lived very difficult lives. A bit more about these women and an attempt to track down more information can be found here:

    1. Myron

      You white people lived corrupt lives knew nothing about diet and health, you guys hated then and now. You know nothing about the African race. The only thing you guys know is what you see on tv and the lies that were told people who believes anything.

  10. Pingback: Memorable Days of U.S. Black History | fernOnline blog speaks

  11. Barbara Saunders

    I’m a bit disturbed at romanticizing the diet and health of people held in slavery! (And for that matter, of people who lived 150 years ago.)

    Just because food is “organic” does not mean it isn’t spoiled or contaminated. Many people in slavery were not getting enough calories, period, let alone the nutrients of a healthy, balanced diet.

    In addition, people in the 1860s died much more frequently from things other than nutrition: accident and infection were far, far less treatable than they are today.

    1. Myron

      It’s a shame that you Blacks knows nothing about your ancestors. If you don’t understand the past you can’t go forward in the future. It’s obvious that you know nothing about African history.

  12. Vent

    Black women of the slavery era, were filled with tenacity, determination to live above the circumstances forced upon them with the intent of dehumanizing them!! Those of you who question their ages, could never understand this. You don’t have a clue about what it REALLY means not only to be a survivor, but also a victor!!

  13. Victor


    I question their ages, but I’m confused not only because my name is Victor, but also because I’ve survived my whole life. Does this make me a black woman? I hope so, cuz I need to get my hair did, and some food up in dis mug on my government check.


    These are

  14. reene

    Patty the fact of the matter is the slave owners tried to give the slaves the worst food but they were to smart.The slaves made the best out of the food they where given and trust and believe these women were in very good health.That’s how most of them breast fed little white babies,cooked meals,cleaned and had to satisfy the master because deep down they really couldn’t stand their wives.It’s 2014 now you should know black don’t crack!!

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