|Click on the smaller images to change the selection of the larger image.
The Defense Fund Committee finally secured William P. Black (1842-1916) to lead the defense. Black was born in Kentucky and grew up in downstate Danville, Illinois. He was studying for the ministry, but when the Civil War broke out he enlisted in the 11th Indiana Infantry Zouaves under Lew Wallace (the noted general who is better known as the author of Ben-Hur). Black subsequently rose to captain in the 37th Illinois Infantry, participating in several major battles and becoming one of the war's most highly decorated heroes.
The first image, dated 1862, is a beautifully framed glass print image known as an ambrotype (5 1/2" x 4 1/4"), showing the dashing young officer in his prime. Black appears in dress uniform, gauntlets and all, with his right fist on his hip and his sword grasped easily in his left hand. His determined expression is nicely set off by the rakish angle of his cap.
After his discharge, Black switched to the law and moved in 1867 to Chicago. By the time of the Haymarket trial, Captain Black (as he continued to be called) had a successful corporate practice. When approached by socialist and trades-union activist George Schilling on behalf of the Defense Committee, Black tried without success to help find the anarchists someone with criminal experience.
Having failed to find someone else, Black decided to take the case himself on principle, against his wife's accurate prediction that it would severely harm his career. Fellow attorney Sigmund Zeisler stated that Black's accepting the case was "nothing short of an act of heroism." In the course of the defense, Black, while never approving of his clients' politics, became convinced of the purity of their character and intentions, and he felt the injustice he witnessed in the courtroom deeply and personally.
According to some accounts, the whole experience caused Black's hair to turn white. The photographs of Black displayed here in different stages of his career as a practicing attorney perhaps offer evidence of this, but the fact that they are undated makes them less than definitive proof that the transformation took place during the Haymarket case. The first image is a cabinet card by Mosher & Company, the second a portrait by Windneath Photographers.
The search for a lawyer with experience in criminal cases finally succeeded with the hiring of William A. Foster, whose photograph can be seen by clicking on the last of the small images. Foster had recently moved to Chicago from Iowa. During the trial, Foster and Black led the interrogation of witnesses.