Resource

Luckie Family Portraits

Photographs of a free Black family who lived in Atlanta through the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras.

Half-length portrait of Nancy Cunningham

Ambrotype, half-length portrait of Nancy Cunningham, undated 1860-1940. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

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Portrait of Thelma Loduska Luckie

Cabinet card, portrait of Thelma Loduska Luckie, undated 1860-1940. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

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Background

Nancy Cunningham Luckie and her husband, Solomon, were two of the less than 40 free Black people who lived in Atlanta (population 9,554) at the start of the American Civil War. Solomon was a barber. He worked at a shop in the Atlanta Hotel. Nancy and Solomon were free, but they lived under harsh local laws meant to control the free Black community. Laws restricted the movement of free Black people around the city, especially at night. They were also barred from the facilities and businesses that white people used. In order to live in the city, they also had to have a white person sponsor them and may have been required to pay a $1,000 fee.

Nancy and Solomon had three children. Despite the oppressive laws they lived under, they enjoyed a successful and financially stable life until the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. On August 9, Solomon was speaking with a friend on the corner of Whitehall and Alabama Streets when shrapnel from a Union Army shell hit him. Solomon was rushed to Atlanta Medical College, where doctors amputated his leg, but he died a few hours later. Nancy was left a widow with three young children.

About the Image

This collection of images shows members of the Luckie family. The existence of these photos indicate that the family was wealthy enough to have professional portraits taken. The images stand as a unique visual record of the small free Black community in Civil War-era Atlanta.

Vocabulary

  • Confederate: Relating to the group of states that seceded from the United States before the Civil War in order to preserve slavery.
  • shell: A bomb shot through the air.
  • shrapnel: Pieces of metal that fly off a bomb when it explodes.
  • Siege of Atlanta: Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops surrounded and attacked the city of Atlanta in May 1864. The siege ended when the Confederate Army retreated from the city on September 1, 1864.
  • sponsor: A person who assumes responsibility for another person.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United State during the Civil War.

Discussion Questions

  • What does the existence of these photographs reveal about the Luckie family?
  • What can we learn about the Luckie family by studying the details of the photographs?
  • What is the value of historical images? Why is this collection significant?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY; AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes
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