Joe Manning, 79
FLORENCE, Mass. — Joe Manning of Florence, Massachusetts, an author, historian, photographer, poet, and songwriter, died on April 27, 2021, after a short illness. He was 79 years old.
Nationally known for the Lewis Hine Project, he used his curiosity and belief in the inherent dignity of people to uncover the stories of hundreds of the child laborers Hine photographed from 1908 to 1924 for the National Child Labor Committee.
Manning was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He served four years in the United States Air Force. In 1970, he received a BA in sociology from SUNY Cortland and became a caseworker for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, where he worked until his retirement in 1999.
While he was a social worker, he began writing songs and joined the Connecticut Songwriters Association, later serving as its president. With collaborator Steve Vozzolo, he wrote and produced "I Love Baseball," an album of new songs about the game that is part of the music collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Arlo Guthrie recorded Manning and Vozzolo's song about artist Norman Rockwell, "Norman Always Knew," and performed it at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts.
In the mid-1990s, he was overwhelmed by the spellbinding geographical setting of North Adams, Massachusetts, a small city in the Berkshires, and became inspired to write several poems about it and research its unique history. Through frequent visits over more than two decades, he created and advised on oral history programs in the North Adams schools, helped plan and run the Neighborhood EXPO, and documented and presented the stories of residents through his writing and photography.
Manning ultimately published two books about the city: "Steeples: Sketches of North Adams" (Flatiron Press, 1997) and "Disappearing Into North Adams" (Flatiron Press, 2001). He later published "Gig at the Amtrak" (Flatiron Press, 2005), a collection of poems. In 2019, MASS MoCA installed a long-term exhibition titled "Joe Manning: Looking at North Adams," which encourages visitors to look out the mill building windows at the present city while they gain a vivid picture of its past through his prose, alongside historical details and oral histories excerpted from his publications.
In 2004, Manning shifted his focus toward his Lewis Hine Project, in which he used his historical knowledge and skills as a genealogist to track down and document the identities and histories of more than 400 children featured in Hine's labor photographs. Hine's photography, which depicts the brutal living and working conditions of child laborers, eventually became the spark that reformed US child labor laws. Manning spent significant time and effort following clues and combing through records to identify subjects of the photographs, all of whom were deceased by this point, then contacting their descendants. Many of those whom Manning contacted were unaware of their relative's involvement as a child laborer photographed by Hine, with most seeing the photographs for the first time. He documented the process of discovery and the untold stories of each child and family on his website, and his stories can also be found in the Library of Congress's collection of Hine's child labor photographs and related material.
In an interview with TIME magazine, Manning spoke about his work: "I began to understand that the most important thing was to get these pictures to the subject's descendants, while they still knew and remembered the person. If I can do that for people, why wouldn't I? In the end, giving people back their own history is a mission for me ... By finding out what happened to some of these people, and by revealing the photos to their descendants, we dignify their lives, and the lives of everyone that history has forgotten."
For more information about Manning's work, including the Lewis Hine Project, please visit his website, morningsonmaplestreet.com.
Manning was predeceased by his mother, Mary E. Manning (born Chaney), and his father, Joseph H. Manning. He leaves his devoted wife of 52 years, Carole; his daughter Sarah Manning and her partner, Briggan Krauss, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; his daughter Ellen Lind and her husband, John, of Farmington, Conn.; and his brother Robert Manning and his wife, Martha, of Prescott, Ariz.
The family asks that donations in his name be made to the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at 61 Main Street, Suite 218, North Adams, Massachusetts 01247 (www.nbccoalition.org). Burial will be private and a memorial service will be announced at a later date. CZELUSNIAK FUNERAL HOME has been entrusted with arrangements. For online condolences, please visit Czelusniakfuneralhome.com.