17 stunning photos of black Victorians show how history really looked.

When you think about America's Gilded Age, what do you imagine?

Perhaps you see images of "Little House on the Prairie"? Or photos of dapper gentlemen and women dressed in frilly lace, riding steam engine trains across the country?

Most of us equate the fashion and social norms of that time period with the latter Victorian era that occurred in the U.K. around the same time. And that's not in-accurate, per se ... except for the part where we tend to assume that everyone was white.


Yes, Jim Crow laws were in effect. But there were still plenty of black Americans rockin' those cravats and wide-brimmed hats, too. You just don't see them in most history books.

So I dug up 17 of my favorite historical photos of black people in Gilded Age fashions. Believe it or not, they were easily accessible through public archives — which means they've been there all along, waiting to show us what history really looked like.

1. Meet Corporal Isaiah Mays.

Born into slavery in Virginia, Mays enlisted in the military as a free man and received a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Wham paymaster robbery of 1889.

2. Or take a moment to admire parasol-wielding Nellie Franklin.

Not much is known about this dapper debutante other than that she was near Tallahassee, Florida, when this photo was taken between 1885 and 1910.

3. Eartha Mary Magdalene White was a humanitarian and philanthropist.

A lifelong resident of Jacksonville, Florida, White amassed her fortunes through serial entrepreneurship in real estate, laundry, dry goods, taxis, and more. Along with her adopted mother, Clara (also pictured), she provided for the hungry and homeless and also built the first public school for black students in nearby Bayard, Florida.

4. The Honorable Reverend Hiram R. Revels was the first black person to serve in the U.S. Senate.

He only served for about a year for the state of Mississippi from 1870 to 1871 before being appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University).

5. Whoever they are, this man and his son were fine examples of the fashions of the times.

Not much is known about the subjects of this photograph other than that it was taken in Connecticut at some point during the 1860s.

6. And then there's this little girl, who is clearly not pleased that her parents made her wear such period-appropriate dress.

Hey, we've all been there. This photo was taken sometime between 1890 and 1900, and was part of W.E.B. DuBois's collection, which was featured at the 1900 World Expo in Paris.

7. The Florida A&M graduating class of 1904 looks ready for their yearbook photo.

At the time, the historically black college was known as the Florida State Normal and Industrial School for Colored Students.

8. And these women were shading themselves from the hot Georgia sun while showing off their Sunday best, too.

Not much is known about the subjects here either other than that the photo was taken around 1899.

9. People didn't only dress up for special occasions, though. Here's a family lounging for a portrait on a lawn in Georgia around the turn of the century.

10. Photography was getting pretty common and accessible by the 1890s. But people still liked to look good.

11. When it comes to this woman's dress, I'm a fan.

This photo was taken in or around Tallahassee, Florida, sometime between 1885 and 1910. Note the fancy feather fan in her hand — it probably came in handy in that humid heat.

12. And look at this guy's sweet satin coat!

13. Here's a woman rockin' a velvet-print bodice.

14. Then of course there's Marie Selika Williams.

She was a star soprano singer and the first black artist to perform at the White House in 1878.

15. The Honorable Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi was the first black American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate from 1875-1881.

Like Revels, he was a Republican from Mississippi. He later served as the register of the treasury under Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley.

16. And who could forget Small?

Little is known about this man beyond his name and the fact he was walking around Philadelphia at some point in the late 1850s, showing off these fine threads.

17. Last but certainly not least, let's not forget the black fashions of the Victorian era that were occurring across the pond.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, right, was an orphaned Yoruban princess who was raised as a goddaughter to Queen Victoria. She eventually married Capt. James Pinson Labulo Davies (left), a wealthy Nigerian businessman, philanthropist, and merchant marine.

As fun as it is to look back at the fashions of yesteryear, it's also a good reminder that actual history isn't as white as we make it out to be.

Cultures and skin colors have all been intermingling since at least the days of ancient Rome. That's why it's so important to point out these not-actually-fluke fashions: because race might not be "real," but racism through erasure definitely is.

All too often, the movies and media and books that retell the stories of our past err on the side of all-white casting unless it's something that's explicitly about race. And all too often, they use "historical accuracy" as an excuse for that same whitewashing — regardless of the easy-to-find evidence presented above.

They say that "history is written by the winners." But I think it might be time to set the record straight.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less