In this exhibit there are, of course, the usual paraphenalia for catching the eye — photographs, models, industrial work, and pictures. But it does not stop here; beneath all this is a carefully thought-out plan, according to which the exhibitors have tried to show: (a) The history of the American Negro. (b) His present condition. (c) His education. (d) His literature.
– W. E. B. Du Bois, “The American Negro at Paris” American Monthly Review of Reviews 22:5 (November 1900): 576.
Do you recall the mix of excitement and trepidation about 15 years ago as we approached the turn of the millennium? The event spurred many reflections on the state-of-the-art of our society and culture while we worried whether our computers would continue to function. One hundred years earlier as the twentieth century approached, a similar air of anticipation (without the Y2K fears) must have predominated as millions of people visited the Paris Exposition of 1900 to see the exhibits presented by many of the earth’s nations.
The Paris Exposition of 1900 (Exposition universelle internationale de 1900) devoted a building to matters of “social economy.” The United States section of the building featured an exhibit devoted to the history and “present conditions” of African Americans. W.E.B. Du Bois and special agent Thomas J. Calloway spearheaded the planning, collection and installation of the exhibit materials, which included 500 photographs as well as charts, maps, and a display of 200 books written by African Americans.
The Prints and Photographs Division holds approximately 220 mounted photographs reportedly displayed in the exhibition, highlighting many aspects of African Americans’ lives, including business enterprises, social life, and education.
Also in the collection are close to 60 statistical charts, graphs and maps, which became very brittle over time. They have recently been digitized, enabling all of us to view them more readily and to appreciate what Du Bois and his colleagues intended to communicate to viewers as they entered a new century.
- Explore the African American photographs and charts assembled for the Paris Exposition.
- Take a virtual journey back to the Paris Exposition of 1900 via the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- Step through the African American History Month portal, a collaborative effort by The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.