For Colored


This photo by was originally published by Life magazine on 27 June 1938.  (Click on the picture for a full-size version.)

The original caption that she wrote for the photo was never published:

FOR COLORED sign atop round Coca-Cola sign tacked to a wooden Star of David in front of BOOKER TEA WASHINGTON store effecting a cruel display of racist condescension in the land of segregation.  Location:  Elkridge, MD, US.  Date taken:  1938.

I first saw this photo at The Fascinating Origin of Coca-Cola,[1] and wanted to find out more about the picture, given the odd juxtaposition of Coke, “For Colored,” and a Mogen Dovid (Star of David). A bit of poking around led me to this fascinating post by John Edwin Mason, a photographer and teacher of African history and photography at the University of Virginia who was reasearching Margaret Bourke-White’s life and work.

Additional articles by Mason on the subject of White, photography and racial issues can be found here. These are intriguing reads which shed some additional insight into the nature of photojournalism that one might not pick up just by reading original articles. In a post about the Photography of Segregation, Mason wrote:

But photographers have little control over how people interpret their photos, even with the most rigorous captioning.  What’s more relevant to this discussion is that Life’sphotographers had almost no control over how their editors used their photos.  Selection, cropping, captioning, context — all of these things were out of the photographers’ hands.  Usually, Life did the photos justice.  Sometimes, it didn’t, and that’s the case here.

I recommend these articles for additional edification about the history of our nation.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Caveat: The website hosting this article is not known for being especially highbrow. I’ve linked to the article, but I would not recommend drilling down into their other links if you’re interested in family-friendly stuff.