(June 11, 2010) -- The boys in the photograph are barefoot, dressed in rags and small. And, according to art historians, they are likely slaves. Almost 150 years after slavery ended in the U.S., more proof of its dark history has been found in a North Carolina attic, a rare photo of slave children that may date to the early 1860s. The photograph was found at a garage sale in Charlotte. With it was a handwritten document from 1854 describing the sale of "John" for $1,150.
"I buy stuff all the time, but this shocked me," Keya Morgan, who bought the photo, told The Associated Press. Morgan, a New York art collector, said he paid $30,000 for the album containing the photograph and another $20,000 for the document.
Art historians believe the image is the work of Matthew Brady, a famous 19th century photographer, or one of his apprentices. Brady shot well-known portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Morgan said that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has offered to buy the portrait, but that he plans to keep the photo for now. Most photos of slaves were meant to document brutality. Some of the most famous, for example, show the scarred backs of men who had been whipped, Harold Holzer, an administrator at the Metropolitan Museum, told the AP. So the photograph of the little boys is remarkable for its mundane glimpse into the faces of children who endured an extraordinary fate.
"This kid was abused and mistreated, and people forgot about him," Morgan said. "He doesn't even exist in history. And to know that there were a million children who were like him. I've never seen another photo like that that speaks so much for children."
Will Stapp, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C, said the photograph puts a face on a horrific chapter in the country's past.
"It's a very difficult and poignant piece of American history," he told the AP. "What you are looking at when you look at this photo are two boys who were victims of that history."
Source: AP/AolNews (11 June 2010), Mara Gay, Contributor (AP/AolNews retains all rights).