Fake Bible salesman

Lewis Hine, Addie Card, a shift in opinion, and what it makes me think today. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

It’s been a heck of weekend, so let’s go back in history once more, to try to figure out the present.

We’re a divided country, but we can agree on a few things. Take child labor, for example. I think we’re all against exploitative child labor, right? At least in an advanced, prosperous country like the United States.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. There was a big shift in opinion in the early 1900s, thanks in part to people like Lewis Hine, a photographer working with the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).

Hine spent years sneaking into factories, mines and mills, documenting the conditions in which children were working. Often posing as a Bible salesman, he took thousands of photos that put human faces on the issue.

Here’s Exhibit A — one of many: a cropped version of Hine’s 1910 photo of a girl, 12, working in a mill in Vermont. (Enable images if it’s not visible, or else check out the full version, here.)

The girl’s name was Addie Card. The expression on her face caught me short the first time I saw the photo. I almost feel like she’s silently asking me as the viewer, 110 years later, to really see her—maybe even help her to get out of the mill.

Of course, photos didn’t “go viral” that often in the 1910s. In fact, more people will likely see Addie Card’s image via today’s newsletter than did in the first few years after Hine took the photo.

Still, as The Washington Post reported two years ago, the imagery and the sheer number of Hine’s photos shifted the debate over the course of a decade or so.

“When Hine comes along and supplements the investigations with pictures,” historian Hugh Hindman told the Post, “it creates a set of facts that can’t be denied anymore.”

Legal changes came too, although not overnight. Congress passed a series of anti-child labor laws in the late 1910s and 1920s—only to see them overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, after FDR threatened to “pack” the Supreme Court, Congress tried again, with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (which by the way, exempted most agricultural child labor).

The Supreme Court upheld that law in 1941—by which time Addie Card would have been 43 years old.

(Pretty good exploration of Hine’s artistic technique in the video below, by the way.)

Shot to death at Wendy’s

O.K. Now we fast-forward to this past weekend, and the latest recorded incident of police violence to go viral: the death of a 27-year-old father of four named Rayshard Brooks, shot and killed by police in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta.

He’d been drinking, and the whole thing started after a 911 call about a man asleep in his car in the drive-thru. The police rousted Brooks and talked with him cooperatively and calmly for 40 minutes, on video, before moving to arrest him.

Then, Brooks resisted and apparently got ahold of one of the officers’ tasers before they shot him. Obviously, you’re not supposed to reach for a cop’s taser.

In the wake of Brooks’s death, however, one of the officers was fired (and could face a murder charge), another is on administrative duty, and the chief of police in Atlanta resigned. Oh, and protestors returned to the Wendy’s the next night, during which somebody in the crowd set the restaurant on fire.

Let me just make the connection to the history lesson above. Much like how everyone now agrees that child labor is wrong and was a real problem, public opinion is moving fast on issues of police brutality and systemic racism.

Does this mean most cops are bad people? No, I don’t think so. But that’s a separate question from asking if the culture, training and priorities are what we want them to be. I hear a lot of people asking that now for whom it wasn’t something to think about a month ago.

And, we live in a time of a million instant Lewis Hines now, in which multiple videos of almost everything like this abound—police body cams, surveillance video, bystanders with smartphones. They’re harder to ignore.

I mean, maybe some people will take issue with the Brooks shooting; after all he ran from the police. Fine, no problem, how about the George Floyd video?

If not that one, how about the police on Long Island this weekend swarming a marcher who appeared to bump into a cop accidentally, after the officer stopped short in front of him? Or you can check out this thread of more than 500 videos of incidents, large and small, compiled by a North Carolina defense attorney named T. Greg Doucette.

Like in Hine’s day, I’m beginning to think it’s the sheer volume and scope of incidents and videos that will wind up moving the needle. People react largely the same way, once they see enough of them.

I just wonder how much more before the tipping point.

And I wonder who will be in my position, a century from now, looking back at them, and saying: “Well, of course we all agree...”


What happened to Addie Card?

Just a quick postscript on Addie Card. I wanted to know what happened to the little girl in Lewis Hine’s photo. As I soon learned, I’m not the first person to ask the question.

A writer named Joe Manning went on quite a genealogical odyssey to track down her surviving family in 2006. It turns out Addie (known in later life as “Pat,” as she had never liked her name) endured some real heartbreak, but she was a generally happy person who lived to age 95.

In old age, she enjoyed spoiling her grandkids, and watching Lawrence Welk and professional wrestling on TV. She never saw Hine’s photo of her, apparently.

Oh, and while we’re at it, a sadder postscript: Lewis Hine went on to do a lot of other photography work, including documenting the workers who built the Empire State Building.

But, he faced “professional struggles due to diminishing government and corporate patronage” according to one account, and died in 1940, “broke and depressed,” at age 66.


7 other things worth your time

  • Conspiracy theories abounded over the weekend, after Winston Churchill’s photo disappeared from Google search results. Was it related to protests? Google says it was more of an algorithmic issue. (9to5 Google)

  • Hey, it worked for Times Square: Amsterdam wants to use the Covid-19 outbreak as an opportunity to clean up the Red Light district. (Bloomberg)

  • Meanwhile, with almost no tourists, Hawaii is still dealing with an unemployment rate higher than the Great Depression. (ABC News)

  • President Trump’s Tulsa rally is reportedly long since sold out, but delayed a day until this coming Saturday. His top economic adviser says he thinks everyone should wear masks, and the Tulsa health director says he “wishes” there would be a further delay because Covid-19 cases are on the rise there. (Reuters, Tulsa World)

  • Here’s the latest on when U.S. sports leagues say they’ll resume: MLS: Tournamet starting July 8 in Orlando. NHL: July 10 training camp for revised playoffs; no word on actual game schedule. NBA: July 30. NFL: Sept. 10. Major League Baseball: totally up in the air, although there probably still will be a shortened season. And, the English Premier League starts up again Wednesday. (NY Daily News)

  • Makers of recreational vehicles say they’re seeing an uptick in the number of people buying RVs in order to use them as home or mobile offices. “One new trend we are seeing is an evolution from ‘work at home’ to ‘work from anywhere,” said the CEO of RV maker Thor Industries. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • Oh, I nearly forgot: I wrote for Inc.com over the weekend about how Netflix says it will automatically stop charging customers who don’t watch anything on Netflix for a year. (Me, on Inc.com).

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