Daguerreotype Of a Little Black Girl

She was almost as white as ivory

and more valuable than ebony.

A pale diamond of abolitionists dreams

draped in a plaid trimmed dress with lace,

curls surrounding her face like

any other plantation girl.

She exists at the edge of color

at the point when light

could be captured as day edges

into shades of night,

somber hues of black and gray .

The notebook on the cloth covered table

suggested richness and more

away from the whipped harvest gatherings,

something stolen away

to be the pride of a Boston heir.

The daguerreotype could never

shake free its sense of death caught still.

Mary Mildred Williams was her white name.

The black one died when she was sold

on the Virginia square for 900 dollars.

Senator Summer bought her freedom

and then enslaved her image

for the abolitionist sway. The first poster child

for black liberty, for the fugitive slave

needing an open air railroad.

She got her last white name, little Ida May,

(same as the imagined white girl

kidnapped and dyed black

to be put in peril for another white right cause)

to highlight the fact that Mildred’s complexion

was the result of generations of white rape.

She was paraded unshackled

from podium to podium,

leaflets of her face passed out,

as common as reward posters

for those who dared run and stray.

She was the next to last speaker

to Solomon Northrop,

also an ex-slave with a

best selling freedom story.

The passing of her image

was a political act,

for a swarming media

enchanted by someone

who looked just

like them but wasn’t.

America loves black stories

that need white saviors

to be reassured of their

separate but equal vision.