Research Conversations: Family Postcards and Black Lives in Early Twentieth-Century America with Dr. Faith Mitchell

Online, Tuesday, August 1, 2023 at 4 p.m. ET

photograph of Emma Crawford
Emma Crawford

The turn of the twentieth century was an extraordinarily difficult period for African Americans, a time of unchecked lynchings, mob attacks, and rampant Jim Crow segregation. During these bleak years, Emma Crawford, a young African American woman living in Pennsylvania, corresponded by postcard with friends and family members and collected the cards she received from all over the country. Her album—spanning from 1906 to 1910 and analyzed in Emma's Postcard Album—becomes an entry point into a deeply textured understanding of the nuances and complexities of African American lives and the survival strategies that enabled people “to make a way from no way.” As snippets of lived experience, eye-catching visual images, and reflections of historical moments, the cards in the collection become sources for understanding not only African American life, but also broader American history and culture.

Dr. Susan Smith, the Blount Research Chair at the National Postal Museum, spoke with Dr. Mitchell, author of Emma’s Postcard Album, Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century, about the postcards that led her to study her family’s history and black lives in the early twentieth century. Dr. Mitchell is an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute where she works closely with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and the Health Policy Center.

photograph of Faith Mitchell
Dr. Faith Mitchell
Emma's Postcard Album cover
Emma's Postcard Album, Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century
Atlantic City post office building pictured on a postcard
Atlantic City Post Office Building postcard collected by Emma Crawford
San Francisco earthquake postcard
San Francisco Earthquake postcard collected by Emma Crawford