In 1849, James Presley Ball—a former itinerant photographer from Vir-
ginia, an African American, and an abolitionist—opened Ball’s Great Da-
guerrean Gallery of the West in Cincinnati. It became one of the most suc-
cessful photographic outfits in that antebellum city. In the post–­Civil War
period, Ball moved his business, following a changing U.S. frontier. In the
1870s he opened a shop in Minneapolis, a neighbor of another African Ameri-
can photographer, Harry Shepard of Saint Paul. The following decade found
Ball in Helena, Montana, where he launched a third thriving studio before he
headed to Seattle. Ball’s last place of residence was Honolulu, where he re-
sided in the early twentieth century. While Ball’s businesses served a variety
of clientele, what all these locations share is that they were important black
western communities that thrived from the late nineteenth century into the
One such community was Nicodemus, Kansas, the most famous of the
black towns that emerged in the period. Like most of the others, it was set up
as a utopian place in an otherwise hostile landscape, with the shining possi-
bilities of self-­government and self-­determination. Survival was made harder
when transportation that could be the lifeblood of the town, the transconti-
nental railroad, was consciously routed away from its precincts. By the 1920s
Noshun: Black
Los Angeles and the
Global Imagination
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