Update: Viral Photo of 1973 Kids in Macomb Spurs Wider Dialogue on Race

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The Macomb Daily found the childhood pals' names via public library microfilm files. From left, they are: Rhonda Shelly, 3; Kathy McCool, 7; Lisa Shelly, 5; Chris McCool, 9; and Robert Shelly, 6. [© Joseph Crachiola.]

Joseph Crachiola, a veteran photographer who's in museum collections but never had a social media viral hit before, continues to marvel at Facebook numbers that keep spinning higher.

"I am overwhelmed," he posted Tuesday morning as strangers around the country kept sharing the evocative image above that he shot in Mt. Clemens on a damp Tuesday in July 40 years ago.

Crachiola put it online Sunday – a half-day after the not-guilty murder trial verdict in Sanford, Fla. -- as a symbol of racial unity. He wrote 14 sentences about what he calls "one of my most meaningful pictures," ending with this: "In light of the current state of affairs in this country I can't help but wonder if we couldn't all learn something from them." 

By Tuesday night, the post had been shared nearly than 1,700 times, earned almost 3,200 "like" clicks and more than 220 comments. 

Update, 8 a.m. Wednesday: Those figures rose to nearly 2,300 shares, 4,300 "likes" and 290 comment posts. 

A few questions about the 1973 location drew this response: "I think it was off Cherry Street behind what used to be Prieh's Department Store."

The 63-year-old photographer, who moved from Detroit to New Orleans in 2009, gives Deadline Detroit an update on the whirlwind. "I have received numerous comments and messages from old friends in the Detroit area, not to mention all the good comments and wishes from the hundreds of strangers," he emailed Tuesday.

"I Remember Seeing Your Name"

Michael Murphy of New Baltimore, a Health Alliance Plan executive who was raised in Mt. Clemens, posted on Crachiola's business Facebook page: "I remember seeing your name next to pictures in the paper growing up! Nice to see you're doing well."

Crachiola will be interviewed Wednesday morning by Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR and also heard from  at least two other Southeast Michigan reporters.

He spoke Tuesday with managing editor Ken Kish at The Macomb Daily, where he was a photographer from 1972-84 and which also is reporting on the photo phenomenon. "He was a young reporter there back when I shot the picture," Crachiola recounts. "He reminded me of two things that I forgotten about.

"This picture was taken at a time when cross district bussing was in the news. There was talk at the time of busing between Detroit and the suburbs and racial tensions were high. Don Riegle was a young congressman at the time and was running for the U.S. Senate. He saw the picture, liked it, and requested a print.

"Apparently the print was framed and hung in his office in Washington during his years in Congress."

Kish also told his ex-colleague that "they went through old microfilms and found the issue in which the picture was published," he adds in a separate e-mail. "As it turns out I actually had the wherewithal to get the kids' names. So they are going to run the picture on tomorrow's front page with a story in the hopes that someone can find those kids after all these years." [The new article is posted here.]

The emotional chord that tugged Riegle also prompts sentimental comments under the image Crachiola put on Facebook. The word "innocence" appears dozens of times. One admirer says his photo shows "the beauty of pure innocence and trust."

Conversations about race, childhood

Here's a sampling of other reflections, starting with some from past or current local residents:  

"Reminds me of my childhood:" Great picture! I was born in 1973 and raised in Detroit. In the '70s my neighborhood was diverse. My brother and I played with all kids in the area and some of our best friends were Caucasian. We had the best times and didn't see color at all. This picture reminds me of my childhood. -- Melanie Cates

"Fond memories" of Detroit: Seeing this photo brought back fond memories. We lived in Detroit (Grand River & McNichols area) 'til I was 8. My best friend Tony was black. We did everything together. I never gave it a second thought that our skin was a different color. Neither did he. – Jim Brasgalla

"Good friends of all colors:" This is a great picture. This is how I was raised and how I still live my life; I have good friends of all colors. I was born in Mt. Clemens in 1969 and raised there. Graduated from MCHS in 1986. These children would be around my age, but unfortunately I don't recognize any of them. I will share the pic on my wall in hopes that at least one of my friends can identify them. – Ericka Edwards

"Your touching story:" I love the essence of this picture of genuine innocence, the love of mankind and your touching story. -- Gloria Pringle-Ashley 

"Love one another:" Great picture and your own words behind it strike the heart chords. Love one another, people. – Kelly Wagner-Pauley

"Hope to see it on billboards:" It is a beautiful picture on many levels. I truly hope to see it on billboards all over America! I shared it with the caption "Our race is the human race." – Maryanne Weeks

"A great ,message:" A great example of the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words." What a great message! -- Heather Desautels of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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Monday article:

Former Detroit-area photographer Joseph Crachiola is thinking about race relations more than usual, a common reaction to the Trayvon Martin case verdict.

The musing led him to share personal reflections on Facebook with a photo he snapped July 31, 1973 for The Macomb Daily. It shows five youngsters, three black and two white, posing playfully after a rain shower in Mt. Clemens – a moment of childhood innocence that moved Crachiola 40 years ago and still does.

He's not alone. Though Crachiola has only 411 followers on the business page where he displayed it Sunday with a 160-word post, he tells Deadline Detroit the black-and-white image has been viewed nearly 20,000 times by Monday afternoon. It has more than 600 "likes," was shared 260 times and has about five dozen comments.

"Apparently it affects a lot of people the same way," he says in a phone interview.

"It's always meant a lot to me," adds the photographer, who is 63 years old and white."I have a print hanging in my dining room, so I see it every day. It represents themes of race relations and tolerance, issues that are important to me. So I put it online. The reaction is mind-boggling."

The image's popularity sparks a new idea: Crachiola wants to find some or all of those who struck a pose in Mt. Clemens four decades ago.

He emailed his old paper to suggest they run an item with the copyrighted photo, and gave Deadline Detroit permission to do so when contacted first. "I read your site with some regularity," he emailed before being called.

"It certainly would be interesting if we could find them after all these years," the photographer says in a comment on his growing Facebook thread under the image.

If any readers can identify anyone shown and know how to contact her or him (two boys are on the right), email the photographer at crachiola@mac.com. Please let us know, too, at the end of this article or on our Facebook page.

Impact Unappreciated Originally

Ironically, the original photo "was buried somewhere inside the paper," as Crachiola recalls.

The former Metro Detroiter, who kept his 313 cell phone area code when he moved to New Orleans in 2009, is restoring a house in the Ninth Ward. In addition to doing professional photography, he's also a guitarist who "sits in with blues and jazz bands made up mainly of African American musicians."

 That's part of the context  for what runs through he mind in the aftermath of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the Florida shooting trial.

"None of us are born bigots," he observes. "Why do we do this? Every time I look at that picture, it brings that to mind."

For a Facebook admirer in Lansing, African American real estate agent Karen Adams-Powell, the photo dusts off childhood memories.

"This is how we grew up in Detroit in the 60's when there were white families in the neighborhood," she posts. "Many still carry this innocence in their hearts today! . . . Thanks for this timely reminder."

Another comment comes from kindergarten teacher Debby Matassa, whose profile doesn't give her location. "I'm glad I got to see this picture. It makes the morning and all of yesterday's decisions a little easier to bear," she says Monday. "And it makes me glad that school will be starting soon. That picture is what I see in my classroom."

Metro Detroit Career and Exhibits

After 12 years at The Macomb Daily, Crachiola worked as a DTE Energy staff photographer from 1984-2006 and taught at Macomb Community College from 2002-09. He also had a Detroit studio from 2007-09.

His photography has been exhibited at the Cranbrook Art Museum, Detroit Artists Market, and River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte. Works are in permanent collections of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Kresge Museum at Michigan State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Here's some of what he posts with his evocative 1973 shot on Facebook:

It was a seemingly insignificant moment. I was walking down a side street and saw some children playing. They saw me and said, "Hey mister, take our picture!" The pose was completely spontaneous. I shot several frames and moved on.

The picture ran somewhere inside the paper and was probably forgotten about, but for me it still stands as one of my most meaningful pictures. It makes me wonder. When is innocence lost? At what point do we begin to mistrust one another? When do we begin to judge one another based on gender or race?

I have always wondered what happened to these children. I wonder if they are still friends. In light of the current state of affairs in this country I can't help but wonder if we couldn't all learn something from them. [© Joseph Crachiola]

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