I don’t know if I have a picture of the old dispensary. … You went in and there were two doors which wouldn’t be that way anymore now. This would have colored up here on this side. And this white on this side.
–from Interview with Katherine Smith (October 1984)

1928 sign designating water fountain for african americans

You probably noticed that the photos linked in the other sections of the exhibit have a definite racial context. Some of them use language to designate that certain spaces and activities were for one race or the other, while others feature depictions of either whites or African Americans going about their lives in a company town.

What follows is a selected group of images that contrast black and white spaces and activities. In general, this kind of racially-marked image represents only a portion of the whole. For example, most buildings that were probably designated for white people did not require explicit labeling; it was just understood. Other facilities might be used by both races and were likewise not labeled. Generally, the labeling of ‘colored’ or ‘white’ was used in cases of highly segregated spaces like housing and schools.

The focus on comparisons will necessarily obscure some facts — namely, which aspects of company town life were very unevenly photographed. For example, the images of black children are few and far between compared with their white counterparts. Though many interviews with African Americans discuss May Day, all 15 photographs we have of those performances and drills feature white children.

Personal Accounts

Many interviews in the Working Lives Oral History Project mention details about life in a company town, but three really make it the focus.

Unlike Emmons and Harris, Smith was white. While her account of the camp’s amenities is similar to that of the other women, her perspective is very different. It helps to illustrate the perhaps hidden differences that would’ve been experienced by families of different races in a segregated company town.

Segregated Spaces and Activities

While facilities were separate, often they were photographed in the same session or framed in the same way, which actually tends to underscore how similar they are. Many of these images would not be identifiable as “black” or “white” without the accompanying text. But just because they look the same doesn’t necessarily mean they are — these images were, after all, created by the companies, who had vested interests in appearances.

Click on any image below to see it in more detail in our digital archives interface.

Community Building Exteriors
For African Americans For Whites
Colored Community House, Muscoda, 1917 White Club exterior, Muscoda, 1917
Community Building Interiors
For African Americans For Whites
Colored Community House, Muscoda, 1917 White Club lounge, Muscoda, 1917
School Exteriors
For African Americans For Whites
School for African Americans, Woodward, 1910s White school, Mulga, 1908
School for African Americans, Edgewater, 1917
School Interiors
For African Americans For Whites
Interior of primary cottage of African American school, Woodward, 1910s Interior of primary cottage of white school, Mulga, 1910s
Classroom with students, African American school, Edgewater, 1917 Classroom with students, white school, Muscoda, 1917
For African Americans For Whites
Christmas party for African American children, Ishkooda, 1915 Christmas part for white children, Edgewater, 1916
Community Christmas tree with African Americans, Edgewater, 1915 Christmas play, Hansel and Gretel, for white children, Wenonah, 1916
Domestic Science
For African Americans For Whites
African American domestic science exhibit, Wenonah, 19117 White domestic science exhibit, Mulga, 1910s
White domestic science exhibit, Mulga, 1910s

Mixed Spaces

There don’t seem to be many mixed spaces, but that’s perhaps by design. Many of these photos are devoid of people entirely, focusing instead on the buildings themselves. Interviews like the one quoted above reveal that some facilities would have been used by workers and families of both races, but probably had separate doors and service windows.

Company Store

Examples of the raciality of public space: left, blacks and whites standing together outside the building — a building with two entrances; right, from a different commissary, two service counters, one for each race.

Company Store, Dolomite, 1920s Commissary, Muscoda, 1914
Black and white men and boys outside a company commissary


Examples of hidden ways in which facilities might be superficially segregated but still reflect a complex reality: left, white children served by a black servant; right, black students taught by a white teacher.

African American servant at white school, Muscoda, 1917 White teacher at African American school, Muscoda, 1917

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