Between 1901 and 1902 Clifton Johnson, a writer, illustrator, and photographer, made at least one journey through the American South. On his trip he met Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and photographed them and the Institute's other members.

As he continued through the South, Johnson captured images of black people in a situation that historian Howard Zinn calls "freedom without emancipation." Though nominally freed decades earlier, many former slaves and their descendants continued in similar conditions as before, working for white people as sharecroppers, domestic servants, and laborers, and facing brutal systemic inequality. In his photographs, Johnson shows blacks going about their lives, working, and raising children.