15 years after this woman found a family portrait in a used book, she is returning it to its rightful owners

By Jack Owens March 9, 2021
You never know what you may find between the pages of a used book, and 15 years ago, one woman certainly got more than she paid for in the form of a family photo. Now, she has found the family, and is returning it.

Victoria Johnson found the half-a-century old photo when she bought the book from a used book store. As a historian and professor at Hunter College at CUNY, she was immediately invested in this family.

“I found this picture in whatever book it was and I was just so mesmerized by it,” Johnson told CNN. “I just wanted to know who this family was.”

Part of Johnson’s curiosity stemmed from the time period in which the photo was taken, and the experiences they must have had as a black family in America.

“This was a black family and I’m white,” said Johnson. “I know they lived different lives from me because this was a picture from probably the 1960s.”

Realizing the power of social media, Johnson decided to take to Twitter to see if she could find the family. Soon after she posted her tweet, thousands of people united to share her post, hoping to help reunite the picture with the its owner.

“It was like this huge joint national sleuthing project,” said Johnson. Less than 48 hours later, a reply came from the niece of the man pictured.

Johnson could not believe how quickly she was able to find the family that she had wondered so much about for almost two decades.

As came to learn, the photo was taken of Sheldon, Margaret, Valerie and Sharon Sudduth at their home in Topeka, Kansas. The husband and wife have since passed, but the girls currently live in Texas.

At age 65, Valerie Sudduth, the youngest daughter in the photo, was shocked to see it after so many years. She told CNN that her father worked at Santa Fe Railroad and was a janitor for 47 years, while her mother was a nurse.

“This picture is such a gift, it really is,” said Elizabeth Rattray, a cousin to the family. “As a culture, we lose so much, we have lost so much. So any pieces that you can find and validate and verify it just it makes it that much richer.”