Black Abolitionists and Their Moving Panoramas
This chapter moves between the United States and England to analyze the antislavery moving panoramas exhibited by three black men—James Presley Ball, William Wells Brown, and Henry Box Brown. Following the moving panoramas of slavery that they toured to exhibit the horrors of enslavement and fund antislavery campaigns, this chapter situates the medium of the moving panorama as another popular media form that black activists used to advance their cause. As the visual medium regained popularity in England and the United States for its landscape views, these black men centered the experiences of enslaved people in their repurposed panoramas for the thousands of men, women, and children who viewed them. The reception of these popular panoramas demonstrated the educational and inspirational components of these works. Each of these three moving panorama purveyors implemented different business strategies to attract attendees and convince them of the authenticity and veracity of their antislavery works. Like the African American producers of other visual media, they drew on an established network of activists as they toured towns and cities in the service of the abolitionist cause. Records from these African American exhibitors, advertisements, and attendees reveal the complex process of encouraging viewer expectations, fashioning visual experiences, and interpreting the displayed information. Activists knew that the freedom of millions was at stake.
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