This Is How A Black Photographer's Vision Helped Abolish Slavery

James Presley Ball
Leslie Taylor-Grover
May 14, 2020

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!

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

Share This Article: