“Framing Shadows—Portraits of African-American Nannies” Now on Display!

The Framing Shadows exhibit, now on display in the Fran Elizer Exhibit space in the Oxford College library, is a compilation of selected historical photographs from the 1840’s to the 1920’s depicting unknown African-American women, young girls, and men who acted as caretakers for white families.

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, author and associate professor of American and African-American Studies at Emory University, selected 20 historical photographs to feature from the Robert Langmuir African-American Photograph Collection at Emory’s Rose Library. Framing Shadows is both humanizing and educational; a compelling opportunity that prompts visitors to look beyond the collective frames to examine the shadowy lives and stereotypes beyond the portraits. Framing Shadows invites you to confront your own feelings, reactions, and understanding of the long tradition of African-American nannies raising white children.

These photographs, along with written narratives and visual materials from Rose Library’s book and manuscript collections, supply critical counter-narratives to the well-known “mammy” stereotype and emphasize the undeniable humanity of each of the individuals shown. By looking at these portraits closely, we can tease out new insights into what is, perhaps, the most complex inter-racial relationship in American life. Wallace-Sanders hopes that visitors with relatives who served as nannies will be inspired to come forward with their stories.

Framing Shadows will be on display in the Oxford College library through the end of 2020 and is open to the public during visitor hours.