Reforming the Reader: Seeing Race in the Narrative of James Williams and The Slave’s Friend

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Room 211 (Hilton Atlanta)
Aston Gonzalez, Salisbury University
This paper examines the production of an engraving by a free black engraver, Patrick Henry Reason, of an escaped slave, James Williams, for the purpose of exploring the reception of Reason’s image in two publications. The portrait became evidence used to validate both Williams’ story and his very existence when Southerners challenged the authenticity of Williams’ slave narrative. The reproduction of Williams’ portrait in another American Anti-Slavery publication, The Slave’s Friend, highlighted another critical audience targeted by abolitionists – children. Analysis of the portraits’ reception underscore how visual culture became essential for abolitionist readers’ perceptions of African Americans, especially former slaves.