We all want to more about what people were thinking in black and white photos. The older the photo, the more mysterious. People standing in place for longer than we can imagine, waiting for flash of the bulb, often not smiling. Yet, they were saying something as they tried preserve their moments in history.
Each Saturday, I volunteer at a local museum and I rummage through old photos, deciding what is valuable to keep in the museum’s collection and what should be discarded. Often times it is a hard decision. What makes something like a photo of people valuable?
A few days ago, copies of photos depicting the round up and transportation of nearly 1,300 protesting miners in Bisbee, Arizona during the summer of 1917 popped up in our museum’s donation pile. We were familiar with them and already had copies so it was decided easily to discard them.
But as I looked at them closely, I began to feel what people in old black and white photos were trying to say, especially during trying times. They don’t communicate in pictures like we do today. This group of photos told the stories of everyday people, living in a small mining community, going to work each day to help produce the riches that built a prosperous community.
It was 1917, and when disputes between management and labor existed, they often didn’t end up well for the laborers. In this case, what happened often during the 1930s in America, happened by surprise and seemingly overnight. It became known as the Bisbee Deportation of 1917.
Scenes are reminiscent of what we read about in history books for Jews who were captured during the Holocaust. American citizens, mostly striking members of the International Workers of the World (IWW) Union, as well as supporters and innocent bystanders, were rounded up at gun point in July of that year, in the early hours of the morning. The local sheriff deputized over 2,000 citizens to make this happen.