White Like Me

How a photograph of a young girl transformed a movement

A daguerrotype of Mary Mildred Williams (Concord Museum)
A daguerrotype of Mary Mildred Williams (Concord Museum)

This week, we’re exploring another overlooked angle of antebellum American history: how photography transformed the abolitionist movement—and in particular, how a photograph of one seven-year-old girl was used to gain a white audience’s sympathy. Jessie Morgan-Owens, a photographer and a historian, has written a book about that little girl, Mary Mildred Williams: Girl in Black and White, so named for the tones of daguerreotype, and of Mary herself—who looked white, though she was born into slavery. The story of how Senator Charles Sumner used Mary to advance his antislavery cause tells us a lot about the politics of the 19th century.

Go beyond the episode:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

SubscribeiTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up