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This carte de visite is one of a series of portraits. In December 1863, Col. George Hanks of the 18th Infantry, Corps d’Afrique, accompanied eight emancipated slaves from New Orleans to New York and Philadelphia to visit photographic studios as part of a publicity campaign promoted by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks of the Department of the Gulf, and by the Freedman’s Relief Association of New York. 

The campaign’s purpose was to raise money to educate former slaves in Louisiana, a state still partially held by the Confederacy. One group portrait, several cartes de visite of pairs of the students, and numerous portraits of each student were made. The emancipated slaves were also photographed with props to imply that the subjects shared the viewers’ values, for example, this one of a young Caucasian-looking girl adoring the American flag. The group photo was also published as a woodcut in Harper’s Weekly in January 1864 and was accompanied by the biographies of the eight emancipated slaves, which served successfully to fan the abolitionist cause. 

Rebecca Huger, pictured here, was 11 years old and, according to the write up in Harper’s, “was a slave in her father’s house, the special attendant of a girl a little older than herself. To all appearance she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood. In the few months during which she has been at school she has learned to read well, and writes as neatly as most children of her age. Her mother and grandmother live in New Orleans, where they support themselves comfortably by their own labor ….” 

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Photo: Melissa A. Winn Collection