Historical Newsletter: Uncle Tom

Noelle Copeland and Ashley Smith


The many images derived from the story of Uncle Tom helped to counteract the widely negative view of slaves, and many people during the 1850's utilized Uncle Tom's popularity to promote their own well-being.

Image 1

Within this picture the African American man has a young white girl on his lap, showing she feels safe around him rather than scared. The man is also shown without shoes which depicts a humble personality, similar to Christ.

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Image 2

The African American man in this painting is shown watering his plants while also smoking a pipe and smiling. This shows a caring personality and illustrates that he cares for plants and finds joy from watching them grow.

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Image 3

This picture is very interesting because many African American individuals are shown on the lawn as though they are just playing, but the white slave owner in the back is shown to be the crazy man of the painting. This depiction virtually switches the roles of black and white as people during the 1850's believed.

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Image 4

This image is very illustrative in that it shows Uncle Tom with his arm around a young white girl at ease. This shows he is gentle and kind. There is also a small dog present in the back of the painting which conveys a feeling of loyalty that can be tied to our African American figure of the painting.

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Image 5

This image shows two white men discussing something unknown to the observer. They are dressed in black and red which creates a sense of evil, which isn't commonly seen. Also, the only other object within the painting is a donkey which represents foolishness that can be connected to the two white men.

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Noelle's Responses

1. The ideas within this time period were that some of the African American men were noble, thus allowing them to live a more natural life as in playing with town children and gardening and school etc.

2. The images that were examined in the process of creating this newsletter held a surprising amount of pictures where African Americans were depicted as gentle people and white men were shown to be crazy. This was not commonly seen is art at the time because white men deemed themselves to be superior within most artwork and then portrayed African Americans as worthless people.

Ashley's Responses

  1. By observing the multitude of images produced after the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin became popular, some of the subtle ideas that have occurred to me regard the irony of the fact that many whites used Tom’s image in order to further their economic gains. They used his image in advertising and promotion while slaves were still in bondage.

  2. The most surprising thing about the images I looked at was how different the depiction of a slave was from the other images I have seen. Tom is illustrated as a happy and respectable man, but his suffering from the loss of his wife and son are disguised.