Du Bois in Paris – Exposition Universelle, 1900
The Paris Exposition held in 1900 was a lavish affair featuring contributions from all over the world showcased in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was really inspired when I saw an image titled “Negro business men in the United States” and was intrigued by information in the note indicating that it had been created by Atlanta University students for the “Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition Universelle. I did some reading and I was even more excited when I saw that Daniel A.P. Murray, an African American researcher and historian at the Library of Congress was involved. He worked with W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Thomas J. Calloway, and others to create the exhibit.
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Inspired by History
The Paris Exposition held in 1900 was a lavish affair featuring contributions from all over the world showcased in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I was really inspired when I saw an image titled “Negro business men in the United States” and was intrigued by information in the note indicating that it had been created by Atlanta University students for the “Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition Universelle. I did some reading and I was even more excited when I saw that Daniel A.P. Murray, an African American researcher and historian at the Library of Congress was involved. He worked with W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Thomas J. Calloway, and others to create the exhibit.
The Paris Exposition
The Paris Exposition
While I had a general idea about what the exhibit was, the article “The American Negro at Paris” written by W.E. B. Du Bois (The Monthly American Review of Reviews, November 1900) made things more clear:
“The bulk of the exhibit, is natural, an attempt to picture present conditions. Thirty-two charts, 500 photographs, and numerous maps and plans form the basis of this exhibit. The charts are in two sets, one illustrating conditions in the entire United States and the other conditions in the typical State of Georgia. At a glance one can see successive steps by which the 220,000 negroes of 1750 had increased to 7,500,000 in 1890”; … (p.576)
But to find out more I had to understand the organizational scheme of exhibits. There were two groups/classes that seemed relevant.
One was Group 1/Class 6 which featured a number of African American universities including the Tuskegee Institute, Howard University, the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Greensboro, and the Hampton Institute in Virginia. However, Du Bois’ article refers to material in Group 16/Class 110. That is how I found the report to the Commission written by Thomas J. Calloway, the special agent in charge of the exhibit, who provided a bit more insight into the exhibit’s goals.
Exhibit of American Negros in Paris
LC-DIG-ppmsc-04826 (digital file from original)
Image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
The Exhibit’s Goals
Thomas J. Calloway explains it here:
“It was decided in advance to try to show ten things concerning the negroes in America since their emancipation: (1) Something of the negro’s history; (2) education of the race; (3) effects of education upon illiteracy; (4) effects of education upon occupation; (5) effects of education upon property; (6) the negro’s mental development as shown by the books, high class pamphlets, newspapers, and other periodicals written or edited by members of the race; (7) his mechanical genius as shown by patents granted to American negroes; (8) business and industrial development in general; (9) what the negro is doing for himself though his own separate church organizations, particularly in the work of education; (10) a general sociological study of the racial conditions in the United States.” (volume 2, p.463)
Outlining The Plan
While much of his report is general, he does go into some detail about Du Bois’ contribution on Georgia – including some background and description of some of the charts:
“It was as late as December 28, 1899, that Professor Du Bois concluded to undertake the special investigation of Georgia, which he had been requested to make. The State of Georgia was chosen because it has the largest negro population and because it is a leader in Southern sentiment. The second choice would have been Virginia, and the third South Carolina. Professor Du Bois outlined his plan and estimated his expense at $2,500. This amount was appropriated by Commissioner-General Peck, and he began his task. Ten or a dozen clerks were employed and the great machinery of a special census was set to work.” (volume 2, p.465)
Daniel A. P. Murray (1852 -1925). Photographer unknown. Photograph, undated.
A Social Study
As Calloway indicated, Du Bois developed a number of charts and graphs, including several devoted to property ownership and land valuation, education, income, population, the value of household and kitchen furniture, etc.
There were several devoted to occupations including Occupations of Negroes and whites in Georgia, Occupations of Georgia Negroes – Males over 10, one on Occupations which included wage information, and Occupations and Income by sex and by families. Some of them can be seen in the photo of the exhibit (an original of which is in the papers of W. E. B. Du Bois at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) some of which I think I have identified – one that was a Social Study, another contains statistical charts on the conditions of slave descendants, and the third covers property value. Thankfully, what was used in the exhibit can be searched or browsed in the African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition collection.
Looking at the Numbers
As for the Atlanta University contribution that originally drew my attention, Calloway doesn’t say much, though he does connect it to the efforts of Du Bois:
“Case No. 3 contained another set of charts sent by the Atlanta University. These charts told the story of negro statistics for the whole country, much as the charts previously described did for Georgia.” (volume 2, p.466)
There is a great cover story from the November 3 edition of the Colored American written by Calloway (they also published Calloway’s plea for support). It contained information about the history of the exhibit, a transcription of a letter written by Calloway proposing the exhibit, letters from supporters like Mary Church Terrell, and information about the exhibit itself (including most if not all, of his report to the Commission).
Image from The Colored American., November 03, 1900, Page 8, Image 8
Image provided by: Library of Congress
There was an interesting account on page two about the exhibit’s genesis:
“In the meantime President McKinley had become interested. Mr. Booker T. Washington made a personal visit to the President on behalf of the movement, and he was seconded my Messrs. Lyons, Cheatham and White. The result was that the President became deeply interested, and after a consultation between the President and the Commission General, I was told that the exhibit had been arranged for and I had been selected to carry out the plans. It was not till November 15th that I received my commission, and there remained just five months to collect, transport 3,500 miles across the ocean and install in a foreign land an exhibit that was to reflect credit upon nine million people scattered over 45 States and distributed in every line of occupation common to white Americans.” (p.2)
Report From The Commissioner-general
Report of the commissioner-general for the United States to the International universal exposition, Paris, 1900 … February 28, 1901.
Image from Library Of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Best in Show
Also in that November 3 Colored American, the editor wrote:
“Few things have been done for us in the last two decades that have counted so much for our dignity and capacity as the winning of so many prizes of high distinction in Paris last summer. (p.8)
So the exhibit was a success. There were a number of medals awarded, including two Grand Prix – one for the collection as a whole, and another to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Gold Medals were award to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Howard University, T. J. Calloway as the compiler, W. E. B. Du Bois. Silver Medals were awarded to Fisk University, Agricultural and Mechanical College, Berea College, Atlanta University, and Booker T. Washington. Bronze Medals were awarded to Roger Williams, Central Tennessee College, Atlanta University, and Pine Bluff Normal and Industrial School. Lastly, two Honorable Mentions were given to Haines Normal and Industrial Institute and Claflin University.
As the Exposition Report says:
“It is impossible to do justice to this exhibit in a few lines of descriptive matter. The material presented was not only of high scientific value, but was show in the most graphic way. There was no better example at the Exposition of the appreciation of the Exposition idea that exhibits must be made attractive and interesting.” (volume 2, p.408-9)
If you want to know more about the Paris Exposition and more about the American exhibits, the Library has many items in the collection including the Report of the commissioner-general for the United States to the International universal exposition, Paris, 1900 … February 28, 1901. Read, referred to the committee on printing, and ordered to be printed (volume 2 contains the complete report from Thomas Calloway “The Negro Exhibit” on pages 463-467), Catalogue of exhibitors in the United States sections of the International universal exposition, Paris, 1900, and the Rapports de Jury international.