Her Face Helped Propel The Abolitionist Movement

Mary Mildred Williams
Leslie Taylor-Grover
October 15, 2020

Mary Mildred Williams was only seven, but she’d already lived a full, intense life. She and her entire family was enslaved, and her father had run away in search of freedom. He’d also worked hard to secure her freedom – but it had come at a cost.

While working for his family’s freedom, he’d found a group of abolitionists more than happy to help him purchase freedom for his family. A prominent white senator had put up the cash, but he was especially interested in Mary. Why?

Mary was a fair-skinned, white-looking Black child. The senator and his allies wanted to use her for anti-slavery propaganda to gain white support to abolish slavery, and Mary was perfect. How so?

He knew that many self-interested whites would only support abolishing slavery if they could center the movement on themselves. Using Mary – who looked white – would remind them of their own children, and perhaps inspire them to act! 

The campaign’s purpose was to create empathy in white people who seemed to only care about themselves. Did it work?

Yes! Mary became the face of anti-slavery propaganda, and her little face was seen all across the North. She inspired many whites to join the abolitionist movement. 

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