Lewis Hine caption: [All in photos worked (even smallest girl and boys) and they went to work at (noon) 12:45. Some of the following boys and girls mey be 14, many are not. John Gopen, 189 Elm St. Joseph Stonge, 73 King St. Billie Welch, 178 Union St. Tim Carroll, 310 Salem St. Michael Devine, 64 South Broadway. Jacob Black, 15 Bradford Bl. Binnie Greenfield, 281 Park St. Andrew Pomeroy, 76 South Broadway. Louis Gross, 39 Myrtle St. Arthur Davois, 244 Salem St. Joseph Latham[?], 165 Willow St. Salvatore Quatirtto, 48 Union St. Sam Gangi, 82 Pleasant Valley St. These two boys were about the youngest of the boys, others nearly as young.] Location: Lawrence, Massachusetts, September 1911.
“He was a very jovial, happy-go-lucky, fun guy. He was a loving dad and husband. He had a lot of friends.” -Estelle Altman, daughter of Jacob Black
In this photograph, Jacob Black and 12 other boys were named in the caption. Lewis Hine took four photographs of this group of children in the same location, but not all of the children appeared in each picture. Nevertheless, Hine wrote the same caption for all of them, including the same 13 names and addresses. But he did not point out which boy went with each name. I found the niece of Michael Devine, one of the boys named. She immediately recognized him and provided photographs of her uncle to confirm it. He is the boy whose head is directly under the outstretched hand of the boy making the clownish face. His story appears on this site.
I was not so lucky with Jacob Black. After about a month of research, I tracked down one of Jacob’s daughters, Estelle Altman. She examined all four of the Hine photos and told me that her father appeared to be the boy noted above. Several weeks later, she sent me more than a dozen pictures of her father, the furthest back being 1934. I made a considerable effort to analyze them to see if Ms. Altman was correct, or if Jacob could be another boy in the Hine photos. I found two other boys in another Hine photo that also resembled Jacob, but in the end, Ms. Altman’s original choice appears to be the one. The details of that analysis appear at the end of this story.
After searching through censuses and city directories, I was able to gather considerable details of Jacob’s early life, much of it unknown to the family. And then I interviewed Ms. Altman.
Jacob William Black was born in the Ukraine (Russian Empire) on April 10, 1897. He was the second of five children, the oldest being his brother Samuel, who was born in 1895. His parents were Morris and Bessie Black, whose original Russian names did not appear in any documents I could find. They were among a great number of Yiddish-speaking Jews who fled Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many settled in Lawrence. Morris and Bessie married about 1894, and came to the US with their first two children through Ellis Island in about 1906 or 1907. The family believes that Morris came over first.
In 1910, the family lived in a rented apartment at 15 Bradford Place. Morris worked as a peddler, and Jacob worked in a woolen mill. By the time that Jacob registered for the draft in 1918, he was living in Manchester, New Hampshire, 30 miles north of Lawrence. He and his brother Samuel operated a newsstand. It was owned by their father, under the name of M. Black Co, but his parents were living at 19 Beverly Street in North Andover, just over the line from Lawrence. Morris owned the house and was a junk dealer. By 1924, Samuel had left Manchester, but Jacob stayed and worked at the Emerson Phonograph Shop. A year later, he was working in Manchester as an automobile electrician. On October 17, 1926, Jacob (called Jack by then) married New York native Emily Schwartz, in Boston.
In 1930, he and Emily and infant daughter Estelle lived at 39 Schuyler Street in Boston. Jacob was a salesman in a music store. In 1937, he became a naturalized citizen. At that time, he and his family were living in the Brighton section of Boston. His parents were living in nearby Revere, and were naturalized six years later. Jacob owned several furniture stores in the Boston area for a number of years. During WWII, he served as an air raid warden, and later, he was a real estate agent. He passed away in Boston on March 19, 1970, at the age 72. His wife Emily died in 1999, at the age of 95.
Edited interview with Estelle Altman (EA), daughter of Jacob Black. Interview conducted by Joe Manning (JM) on February 2, 2012.
JM: What do you think about the photos, and the fact that your father was working in a mill as a child?
EA: I think it’s amazing. I knew he lived in Lawrence then, but I had no idea what his childhood was like. He never talked about it.
JM: What year were you born?
JM: What was your mother’s name?
EA: Emily Schwartz. She was born in New York City.
JM: When and where did your parents marry?
EA: In 1926, in Boston.
JM: Where were your parents living when you were born?
EA: In Brighton, a section of Boston.
JM: What was your father doing for a living at that time?
EA: He was in the furniture business. When he was young, he sold pianos in a music store in Boston. He worked for various furniture stores, and then he had his own business. At one point, he owned a furniture store in Cambridge.
JM: In his 1937 naturalization form, he listed his address as 78 Euston Rd, in Brighton.
EA: That’s correct.
JM: Did your parents own that house?
EA: My parents never owned a home.
JM: Did your mother work?
EA: Yes, she worked for many years as a secretary.
JM: How long did you live in Brighton?
EA: Until I was about 17 or 18. Then my parents moved to Brookline. I got married when I was 19. At that time, my father owned a store called Black’s Furniture. They lived in Brookline for many years, and then they moved to Florida. They lived there about two years, and then my father passed away. My mother stayed in Florida about 30 years after that.
JM: How many children did your parents have?
EA: Three daughters. I am the oldest. Joan is four years younger than I, and Susan is 11 years younger than I.
JM: Did your father finish school?
EA: I doubt it, but my mother did.
JM: Did you graduate from high school?
EA: Yes. I got married when I was 19. I attended Boston University for two years. My sister Susan graduated from Boston University, and my sister Joan went to a secretarial school for a couple of years.
JM: Where did you move when you got married?
EA: Washington, DC. My husband was a patent attorney. He worked for the government. We lived there about three years, and then we moved back here and lived in Cambridge and Newton.
JM: Did you know your father’s parents?
EA: Yes. Their names were Morris and Bessie. They spoke Yiddish, but they also could speak a little English. They lived in Revere when I knew them.
JM: Did your parents speak any language besides English?
JM: What was your father like?
EA: He was a very jovial, happy-go-lucky, fun guy. He was a loving dad and husband. He had a lot of friends. He loved to play cards, and he loved the horse races, but he wasn’t a gambler. He and my mom used to go to Rockingham Park or Suffolk Downs one afternoon a week. He was a wonderful salesman, but not a responsible businessman. He would go into business, and then it would fail and he would open another. He just didn’t have good business sense. My father never made a lot of money, so my mother had to work. He was sick with lung cancer for a couple of years before he died. He and my mother lived in my house in Newton for a year, and then he was in a nursing home for several months.
How I identified Jacob in the Hine photos:
Which boy was Jacob Black?
Jacob’s daughters, Estelle and Susan, looked through all four of Lewis Hine’s photographs that have their father named in the caption. So did I. I also consulted with a former professional photographer, and a well-known collector of historical artifacts including photographs. We settled on three boys who appeared to closely resemble Jacob as he looked in pictures taken of him in the 1930s and 1940s. The family has no pictures of him prior to that time. One of those boys appears in Photo #1 above, and the other two boys appear in Photo #2 above. No other boy in any of the four photos bears any resemblance to Jacob. The boy is Photo #1 appears to be the closest match.
Both boys in Photo #2 have fairly similar noses, eyes, and facial shape. But the ears don’t match. In the two later photos of Jacob below, the top of each ear is above the eye line, and the bottom of each ear is in line with the bottom of his nose. Also, his right ear is especially pointed at the top.
The right ear of the boy on the left in Photo #2 (wearing the coat) is not pointed at the top, and his left ear is below the eye line. The right ear of the other boy in Photo #2 is barely visible, but the top of his left ear is not above the eye line.
The right ear of the boy in Photo #1 is very pointed, the top of each ear is above the eye line, and the bottom of each ear is in line with the bottom of his nose.
Given that daughter Estelle initially guessed that this boy was her father; given that the other two boys appear to have been ruled out; and given that there are no other boys in any of the four Hine photographs that resemble her father, I am willing to accept that the boy is Photo #1 is Jacob Black.
Even if we never know this with complete certainty, we do know that Jacob was photographed by Lewis Hine. We know that he and his family managed to escape the oppression of anti-Semitism in Russia, sail across the globe, and settle in a strange country. We know that Jacob worked in a textile mill as a young boy, and that he participated in the Bread & Roses Strike. And we know that he went on to establish several businesses, serve his country in WWII, raise a family, and that he is lovingly remembered by his children.
*Story published in 2012.