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Title: Drawing a Global Color Line: “The American Negro Exhibit” at the 1900 Paris Exposition
Authors: Bini, Elisabetta
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Elisabetta Bini, "Drawing a Global Color Line: “The American Negro Exhibit” at the 1900 Paris Exposition", in: Guido Abbattista (edited by), “Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions Nineteenth to Twenty-first Century”, Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2014, pp. 39-65
This chapter examines the role African Americans had in the 1900 Paris Exposition.
It focuses on “The American Negro Exhibit”, set up by prominent African American
activists and intellectuals, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Thomas
J. Calloway, in order to represent the progress and achievements of blacks in the U.S.
in the three decades following the end of the Civil War. Based on research carried out
in the Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection and the Booker T. Washington Papers at the
Library of Congress, the Archives Nationales and the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris,
this chapter highlights the ways in which the 1900 Paris Exposition became a way for
African Americans of challenging the forms of racism against blacks and colonized
people carried out in the so-called “native villages”, and more broadly in society, and
establish new forms of solidarity and political activism, domestically and internationally.
At the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in 1893 in Chicago, African Americans
had already criticized the U.S. government for denying them fair representations, through
the pamphlet, The Reason why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian
Exposition. In 1900, they demanded the right to be assigned a space where to set up
“an exhibit of the progress of the American negroes in education and industry”. “The
American Negro Exhibit” presented African Americans’ success in education, literature,
industry and commerce, by making wide use of photography, charts and graphs. Its
main aim was to challenge the idea that African Americans were “a mass of rapists, ready
to attack every white woman exposed, and a drug in civilized society”, and highlighted
the achievements of the so-called New Negroes. The images showed middle-class,
respectable urban blacks, members of a generation that had not experienced slavery,
while at the same time emphasizing the emergence of new forms of racism and violence
in the South.
“The American Negro Exhibit” served as a turning point in the history of African
American activism. Indeed, in the context of the 1900 Paris Exposition, Washington
and Du Bois grew further apart, offering profoundly different understandings of race
relations in the U.S. and globally. On the one hand, Washington advanced the idea
that the forms of racial integration promoted by the Tuskegee Institute should serve as
a model for African colonies, uplifting Africans through work and discipline. On the
other hand, in one of the plates displayed at the exhibition, Du Bois introduced the
notion that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”, a
statement he later presented at the First Pan-African Conference, held in London in
July 1900. For both leaders, the 1900 Paris Exposition allowed for the establishment of new transnational alliances with activists in Europe and Africa, which flourished after
the First World War.
Type: Book Chapter
ISBN: 9788883035821
eISBN: 9788883034923
Appears in Collections:Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations. National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions 19th to 21st Century

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