“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

January 28, 1871

Thomas Worth

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

Black Americans; Labor; New York City, Black Americans; New York City, Home Life;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

New York City;

Coachman. "Bub, I'll give you a Quarter to go in that House and tell the Lady the Chimney's on Fire. My Missus has been in there for Two Hours, talking Scandal, and I'm most Froze to Death."

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Thomas Worth sympathetically depicts the plight of a black servant who shivers in the cold while his white mistress visits inside the warm home of her friend.

Throughout the 19th-century, the vast majority of African Americans lived in the South, first as slaves, then as freedpeople. The black population in the North was small, although an exodus from the South beginning in the late 1870s began gradually to change that. In 1860, about 12,500 African Americans lived in New York City; even by 1900 they constituted less than two percent of the city’s entire population.

Blacks in New York City in the mid- and late-19th century were free, but they still faced considerable racial prejudice and discrimination. Although a few entered medicine, law, or business, serving the black communities throughout the city, most competed with European immigrants for menial, unskilled work. In 1855, only three percent of the domestic servants in the city were African American. After the brutal draft riots in July 1863, in which black New Yorkers were lynched and their property destroyed, there was a modest shift among some of the white upper class to hire black servants rather than Irish immigrants (the main group of rioters). The draft riots also provoked many African Americans to leave the city permanently, producing a 20 percent drop in their population to less than 10,000 by 1865.

In his Harper’s Weekly editorials (1863-1892), George William Curtis was a resolute voice for racial equality and black civil rights. The journal essentially reflected his views on this subject, although its reporting and images of blacks were more mixed and ambivalent in the post-Reconstruction period. This Thomas Worth cartoon from January 1871 is consistent with Harper’s Weekly understanding that wealthy whites were often insensitive—“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”—to the humanity of blacks who served them or otherwise populated the same city. This black coachman’s attitude, however, reveals that he also does not hold his white mistress in high regard.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
June 17, 2024

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