Posted on May 31, 2019

Photographs from 1900 Paris Exhibition Showed the World That African Americans Were Now Musicians, Lawyers and Scientists

Chris Dyer, Daily Mail, May 31, 2019

Incredible photos from the turn of the 20th century were included in a bold and spectacular Parisian exhibit designed to promote racial equality in the wake of the American Civil War.

Around 120 years ago African American scholars, writers, and intellectuals faced a race against time to build and present a display which would be seen by tens of millions of people and had the potential to alter the course of history.

In 1899, African American lawyer Thomas Calloway had an idea for an exhibit for the upcoming 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) in Paris.

Realizing that eyes across the globe would be on the City of Lights — and the magnificent metal tower under construction by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel that would serve as its entrance — Calloway thought the grand event would be an ideal platform to showcase African American society nearly four decades after the end of lawful slavery.

He immediately turned to Librarian Daniel Murray and his former university classmate and prominent intellectual activist W.E.B. Du Bois to help curate his much anticipated ‘Exhibit of American Negroes’.

The remarkable photographs included a class of smartly dressed black academics graduating at Howard University, Washington DC, a sisterhood of nuns outside a New Orleans church, and a group of hardworking journalists at the Planet newspaper, Richmond, Virginia.

In addition to photographs and portraits of a cross section of the African-American population, the exhibit included books written and patents held by black creators, and dozens of charts, graphs and drawings outlining the demographics and economic situation of black people in 1900.

[Editor’s Note: The original story includes several of the photographs.]