RALEIGH, N.C. — A haunting 150-year-old photo found in a North Carolina attic shows a black child named John, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes, perched on a barrel next to another unidentified young boy.
Art historians believe it's a rare Civil War-era photograph of children who were either slaves at the time or recently emancipated.
The photo, which might 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.
New York collector Keya Morgan said he paid $30,000 for the photo album including the photo of the boys and several family pictures and $20,000 for the sale document. Morgan said the deceased owner of the home where the photo was found was thought to be a descendant of John.
Ron Soodalter, an author and member of the board of directors at the Abraham Lincoln Institute in Washington, D.C., said the photo depicts the reality of slavery.
"I think this picture shows that the institution of slavery didn't pick or choose," said Soodalter, who has written several books on historic and modern slavery. "This was a generic horror. It victimized the old, the young."