15 years ago, Victoria Johnson purchased a book from a used bookstore, and inside she found a photograph of a family, and it instantly captivated her.
“I found this picture in whatever book it was and I was just so mesmerized by it. I just wanted to know who this family was. I used to get the picture out every now and then, it was on my shelf, and I would just look at it. And just think about these people”Victoria Johnson
Johnson is a historian and professor at Hunter College with CUNY, and she has often wondered about the family in the photograph, wondering if they were still around and about the lives they have led.
“This was a black family and I’m white. I know they lived different lives from me because this was a picture from probably the 1960s…
A lot of Americans have been thinking about race lately, my students help me think about that, my colleagues, the historians and activists I follow on Twitter. It was all kind of swirling around in my mind and then I saw the picture.Victoria Johnson
Johnson found herself drawn to the family photo once again, this time determined to return the photograph to its rightful owners.
The tweet gained lots of attention, with thousands of internet strangers trying to help solve the mystery.
Within 48 hours of posting, a viable hit entered Johnson’s feed, and Twitter helped her connect with a niece of the man in the photograph.
Johnson was surprised by how quickly she was able to track down the family that has been a mystery to her for 15 years. Through the niece she contacted, she learned that the photo was taken of Sheldon, Margaret, Valerie and Sharon Sudduth at their home in Topeka, Kansas.
The husband and wife are now deceased, but the daughters reside in Texas. Valerie Sudduth, 65, the youngest daughter in the photo, couldn’t believe that her family’s picture was found.
Sudduth said her father worked at Santa Fe Railroad and was an entrepreneur, and also had worked in janitorial service for 47 years. Her mother was employed as a nurse, and later worked at their church. The family was involved in their church, with the father singing in a gospel quartet for 50 years.
“This picture is such a gift, it really is. 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.”Elizabeth Rattray, cousin of the family
Johnson intends to mail the photograph to the family in Texas and hopes to start a phone correspondence, getting to know the family and their history better.