A haunting 150-year-old photo found in a North Carolina attic shows a young black child named John, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes, perched on a barrel next to another unidentified young boy.
Art historians believe it’s an extremely rare Civil War-era photograph of children who were either slaves at the time or recently emancipated.
The photo, which may have been taken in the early 1860s, was a testament to a dark part of American history, said Will Stapp, a photographic historian and founding curator of the National Portrait Gallery’s photographs department at the Smithsonian Institution.
“It’s a very difficult and poignant piece of American history,” he said. “What you are looking at when you look at this photo are two boys who were victims of that history.”
In April, the photo was found at a moving sale in Charlotte, accompanied by a document detailing the sale of John for $1,150, not a small sum in 1854.