In 19th-century America, times were uncertain for Black people. We were fighting against slavery - or trying to escape it. But there was also something else going on below the surface.
Many of our people were trying to stay connected across the miles that separated us from our families as we escaped bondage, and a new technology called daguerreotype - an early form of photography - was helping. Black daguerreotypist James Presley Ball found success taking portraits of mostly wealthy patrons.
But he wanted to do more with his skill.
He had an idea: many privileged whites didn’t enslave our people directly, so they didn’t know the true horror of slavery - but they were interested in “the novelty” of it. Though Ball himself was never an enslaved person, he was an outspoken abolitionist.
So he got to work.
He organized local artists to create a huge mural documenting the horrors of slavery and wrote a pamphlet to go along with it. The mural was a success; thousands paid to see it along the East coast and even in Europe. But what happened next still stumps scholars today.
After an exhibition in Boston, the mural came up missing, and no one has seen it since!
But it had done its job. It educated generations of people about how deplorable slavery was, and it helped document an important piece of our history and history of this country. Like Ball, we must continue to use our talents towards the project of liberating our people!