Tuesday, August 16, 2011


One of the pleasures of collecting old photographs is...well, guessing. Even when an image is labeled with dates, names, and locations, the best that can be done, even if the image is something that can be researched, is to make an educated guess. When I look at this real photo postcard, I see the wife and son of a missionary. There are a lot of other explanations, but that's what I see.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States joined the British in shipping out young men and their families to convert the heathen, and like the British, had mixed results. A lot of the natives had no desire to be converted, and many simply added Christ to the pantheon of deities they already worshipped.

One of the most noted American missionaries was William Sheppard, often referred to as Black Livingston. Like the Scott, David Livingston, Sheppard, the first African American sent to Africa as a missionary, used his church assignment as a platform to pursue his real interests. During his time in the Congo Free State, he excelled as an explorer, big game hunter, anthropologist, ethnographer, art collector, and on his return trips to the United States, lecturer. And while British diplomat Roger Casement, wrote reports on the genocide in the Congo, the legacy of King Leopold of Belgium, and Mark Twain wrote about it in his book, King Leopold's Soliloquy, it was Sheppard at the risk of his life, who trekked through the Congo and documented the mass murder of Africans, by the Belgians that left so many dead. While we can never know for sure, one figure cited by historians for the final death toll of Leopold's rule is 10,000,000. All for piano keys, jewelry, and pneumatic tires.

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