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.