At NURFC, it is our mission “to reveal the stories of freedom’s heroes,” and finding a photograph like this in the collection prompts questions about whether the subjects of the photographs were freedom’s heroes. I would argue that Ball himself was one – he braved the borderlands to set up shop in a highly visible profession, and photographed black and white Americans alike. Though born free, he did not live in a free state (he was born in Virginia), until he set up a studio in Philadelphia; but, even then, he returned to Virginia to work, right across from the state capitol, and likely harbored at least a little worry for his freedom. He may not have been a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but he was certainly a pioneer in the photographic arts, and deserves to be celebrated.
- Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice