Family photos tell tales of our history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 1999

The man in the photograph stares back at me with a blank expression. His is a stern face, preserved for history in that photograph with a solemn expression, suggesting a demeanor shaped by struggles he faced during the Great Depression.

I’ve often stared at that photograph and wondered about the man – John Green. It’s the only connection I have to a grandfather who died long before I was born.

I know only a brief history of the man. Born in Scotland, rose to a position of leadership in Scottish marine workers unions, emigrated to the United States with his wife and young daughter in the late 1920s. Soon after, the family grew to include two more daughters and a son.

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And his role in American history grew.

A diehard union man, he helped run an American shipbuilders union – a role that led to luncheons and meetings with the legendary Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his presidency.

But despite the family stories and the history, my only tangible connection to John Green’s life is that photograph.

Each time I visit my parents’ home, I find myself drawn to the simple portrait. I’ve concluded that the black-and-white photograph is a fitting image – simple, practical and unembellished, much as I imagine John Green must have been.

I wonder what he was thinking when he stopped to pose for the photographer – was he mulling over a labor contract, or worrying about his young family at home?

I wonder about his voice – was it thick and surly, with a Scottish brogue that belied his Americanism?

And, more than anything, I wonder about the history he watched, he experienced, he created during his lifetime. What would the man in that photograph tell me if he could speak?

And what would I ask him?

It is the portraits of men and women like John Green – the faces of the people who shaped this century in large and small ways – that fascinate me.

That fascination has grown in recent months as we’ve begun planning for a unique millennium publication.

Our &uot;A Century To Remember&uot; book – a new venture for this newspaper – is our attempt to capture some of that history for this generation – and those to come.

When you stop to think about it, the 20th century has been one of tremendous change – from wars to peace, industrial development to the atomic age to the information age. We’ve seen more change, more growth, more horizons crossed than John Green could’ve ever imagined in the past 40 years.

But one thing has remained constant in all that chaos and change – the human element. It’s found in the faces of relatives who watch us from family portraits and the impromptu snapshots that capture a moment in time.

And the human element is what we want to document in our &uot;Century to Remember.&uot;

The class portraits and the proud parents beaming at the birth of a new baby are the images of history.

Gathered together, they will tell a story of the Miss-Lou community through a visual history of our remarkable century.

That’s why we’re asking for your photographs – from the earliest days of the 20th century to the start of 1999. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be collecting photographs here at The Democrat and scanning them into our computer system for possible inclusion in the volume, which we’ll have available in time for Christmas gift-giving.

I encourage each of you to share your history with us …