BOOK REVIEW: Emma’s Postcard Album, Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century by Faith Mitchell

Using one young woman’s correspondence, we get a microhistory of the African American experience in early twentieth-century America.

Emma's Postcard Album: Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century
by Faith Mitchell

Genre: History, African American history, African American Studies, Memoir

Published:  December 2022


The turn of the twentieth century was an extraordinarily difficult period for African Americans, a time of unchecked lynchings, mob attacks, and rampant Jim Crow segregation. During these bleak years, Emma Crawford, a young African American woman living in Pennsylvania, corresponded by postcard with friends and family members and collected the cards she received from all over the country. Her album—spanning from 1906 to 1910 and analyzed in Emma's Postcard Album—becomes an entry point into a deeply textured understanding of the nuances and complexities of African American lives and the survival strategies that enabled people “to make a way from no way.” As snippets of lived experience, eye-catching visual images, and reflections of historical moments, the cards in the collection become sources for understanding not only African American life but also broader American history and culture.
In Emma's Postcard Album, Faith Mitchell innovatively places the contents of this postcard collection into specific historic and biographical contexts and provides a new interpretation of postcards as life writings, a much-neglected aspect of scholarship. Through these techniques, a riveting world that is far too little known is revealed, and new insights are gained into the perspectives and experiences of African Americans. Capping off these contributions, the text is a visual feast, illustrated with arresting images from the Golden Age of postcards as well as newspaper clippings and other archival material.

Available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble  University Press of Mississippi


Absolutely beautiful! Faith Mitchell transports us back to the early twentieth century through the eyes and postcards of a young Black American woman Emma Crawford. Faith Mitchell’s own grandmother to be exact. 

Mitchell found them in her mother’s trunk after her mother’s passing which she had kept from her own mother. Curious Mitchell realized that not only do these postcards grant her insight into her grandmother’s life but it showed a bigger story of what life was like for a Black American at that time.

For those who love ancestral history, Emma’s Postcards Album shines bright as we see a part of American history play out before our eyes in the most innovative way.

 The postcards collected range from the years 1906-1910 as we gleam into Emma’s life as Mitchell weaves in historical facts and data of the times. Winner of the 2023 BCALA award for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation it is no surprise as Emma’s Postcards Album is a cemented piece of Black American history, and praised for its fresh telling.

What Emma’s Postcard Album shows is how hard Black Americans fought back against them and how we are still fighting today. Yet I like to look at the positivity in Emma’s Postcards Album at also how amazingly strong we as Black Americans are. I like viewing it as how far Black Americans have come. 


Faith Mitchell is a medical anthropologist whose career has bridged research, philanthropy, and social and health policy. In addition to numerous policy-related publications, she is the author of Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies and The Book of Secrets, Part 1. Mitchell is an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute. She and her husband live in Northern Virginia.

Follow Faith on LinkedIn and at Emma’s Postcards Album on Instagram

4 Replies to “BOOK REVIEW: Emma’s Postcard Album, Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century by Faith Mitchell”

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