Iconic Imagery and The Atlantic's Civil War Coverage

slave gordon-body2.jpg

Perhaps the most striking photograph in The Atlantic's commemorative Civil War issue is a grainy sepia print of a slave sitting with his back exposed, revealing a lattice of raised marks that look more like tree bark than skin. By itself, the portrait tells a horror story of enslavement and it was widely circulated as propaganda among abolitionists, but not in The Atlantic itself. 


In a recent segment on NPR's All Things Considered, Atlantic editor James Bennet tells Michele Norris that one of the goals of this issue was to juxtapose the magazine's archival essays with provocative images from the time:
NORRIS: Though The Atlantic Monthly did not carry photos in the mid-eighteen hundreds, James Bennet says the photo of that slave called Gordon captured something early editors tried hard to convey through words.

BENNET: The editors of the magazine were trying to combat a particular image of Southern propaganda about the life of slaves, that this was a fundamentally benign institution, that the slaves benefited from the master-slave relationship and actually liked it, and they were out to do everything they could to expose the horror of this institution the way this photograph does.

NORRIS: Essays about the Civil War from before that war was history are what give the commemorative issue of The Atlantic so much weight. Louisa May Alcott spins a tale about the grim reality of life inside a Union hospital. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. writes about the desperate search for his son, the future Supreme Court justice who'd been shot through the neck.

But almost absent are the voices of slaves, even though their bondage was at the heart of the Civil War.  
Listen to the whole segment on NPR
Presented by

Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

Just In