About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Girl in Black and White: The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolition Movement"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
March 18, 2019 

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for today’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from Jessie Morgan-Owens about the remarkable story of Mary Mildred Williams, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up soon in the McGowan Theater.

On Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m., we will screen three historical documentaries as part of the 2019 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Pare Lorentz’s two classic works—The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River—and Joris Ivens’s Power and the Land offer a portrait of rural American life during the Great Depression.

And on Tuesday, March 26, at noon, Katherine Marino will be here to tell us about her new book, Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement, which chronicles the dawn of the global movement for women’s rights in the first decades of the 20th century.

If you want to learn more about this agency and our public programs, please check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit its website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

The title of this new book from Jessie Morgan-Owens—Girl in Black and White: The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolition Movement—has many layers. The image of Mary Mildred Williams that has come down to us is a black-and-white photograph. Mary herself was of both black and white descent. And her story is set down “in black and white” on ink and paper in the documentary evidence and in the book. We also often want to see things “in black and white” — with clearly defined issues that we can quickly grasp.

Yet history isn’t such a simple binary form.  Sometimes, the more we dig into the historical record, the more we reevaluate, reshape, and redefine our original assumptions.

People come to the National Archives with questions, searching through court records, petitions, reports, and other documents produced and acquired by the federal government. They may find what they hoped or come away with unexpected answers—and more questions.

Our mission is to ensure that our nation’s documentary heritage is safely preserved and accessible to every generation that searches for answers.

Jessie Morgan-Owens is a scholar, educator, and writer with 14 years of experience teaching and writing. She received her doctorate in American Literature from New York University and is currently the Dean of Studies and director of curriculum at Bard Early College in New Orleans.

Her research in photography and abolition has been supported by a National Endowment of the Humanities grant and a residency at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. She is also a professional photographer with the award-winning team Morgan & Owens.

Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome Jessie Morgan-Owens.