Signposts on the Road Less Taken: John Newton Hyde’s Anti-Racist Illustrations of African American Children

In the second half of the nineteenth century, popular images of African American children became increasingly denigrating. However, John Newton Hyde, a white, prolific, mid-nineteenth century commercial artist of middling talent produced two quietly extraordinary, radically anti-racist images of African American children. Each of these illustrations cannily revised an image from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to envision racial egalitarianism. This article locates these images within the intensifying visual denigration of black children during the second half of the nineteenth century—a process of dehumanization that reached its nadir, by the end of the century, in the grotesque figure of the “pickaninny.” If Hyde—a white man of economic privilege, a political moderate, and an artist of no great genius—was able to visualize racial egalitarianism through black children, then the potential existed for such images to become widespread in the second half of the nineteenth century. But that did not happen. Hyde’s two images linger as small, painful signposts upon a visual and political road that was less taken.