The Spell family portrait.

Photographs of formerly enslaved people are relatively rare, and I am grateful to Roy S. Spell Jr. for sharing one that his family has cherished for well over a century. His grandfather Johnnie Spell, born about 1903, is at bottom left, leaning against his grandmother Chaney Spell, who was born into slavery about 1845. Other Spell family members surround them.

We met Chaney Spell here in the interview she gave a Works Project Administration worker in the late 1930s. (Annie Finch Artis can be heard giving voice to Chaney Spell’s words in an exhibit first staged at Wilson’s Imagination Station and now permanently housed at Freeman Round House Museum.) 


In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Chaney Spells, 55, sons James S., 19, Gray, 17, Walter, 16, and Charley, 13, grandchildren Unity, 14, Fannie, 10, Irvin, 7, and Chaney Farmer, 2, and boarder Harriet Killibrew, 45.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widow Chanie Spell, 65, farmer; son Walter, 21; and grandchildren Yearnie, 20, Chanie, 13, Thomas, 5, and Louise, 3.


  1. I love old pictures. They have so much history. I can’t find many of my Family. I Love your work

  2. Wonderful picture! Thank you to the Spell family for sharing. I truly love learning about all this rich history! Thank you too Lisa!
    Vicki Cowan

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