African Americans at table in Clarksdale, 1939, by Marion Post Wolcott. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 132 (MDAH Collection)

African Americans at table in Clarksdale, 1939, by Marion Post Wolcott. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 132 (MDAH Collection)

The Farm Security Administration collection (PI/1986.0026) is unique in that it documents the everyday life of Mississippians, both black and white, during the Depression era. The photographs capture a microcosm of daily activities, including people at work and leisure. The Library of Congress holds the original negatives, but MDAH has copies of images pertaining to Mississippi.

Patti Carr Black assembled many of these photographs for her book, Documentary Portrait of Mississippi: The Thirties. She wrote, “These images, along with Eudora Welty’s One Time, One Place, help define for us the meaning of the Depression in Mississippi. They also may help others understand an observation that Walker Evans [an FSA photographer] made shortly before his death: ‘I can understand why Southerners are haunted by their own landscape and in love with it.’”1

Scene in Natchez, Mississippi, by Ben Shahn. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 77 (MDAH Collection)

Scene in Natchez, Mississippi, by Ben Shahn. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 77 (MDAH Collection)

This description from the Library of Congress gives a brief history of the collection:

The photographs of the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944…The project initially documented cash loans made to individual farmers by the Resettlement Administration and the construction of planned suburban communities. The second stage focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording both rural and urban conditions throughout the United States as well as mobilization efforts for World War II.2

"Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday afternoon," by Marion Post Wolcott. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 159 (MDAH Collection)

"Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday afternoon," by Marion Post Wolcott. Call Number: PI/1986.0026, item 159 (MDAH Collection)3

View more of the FSA photographs at the “American Memory” page on the Library of Congress website.


1 Patti Carr Black, Documentary Portrait of Mississippi: The Thirties (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982), 7.

2 Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, “Background and Scope of Collection,” http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/background.html (accessed February 2, 2012).

3 Photograph caption from Black, Documentary Portrait of Mississippi, 83.