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Du Bois Exhibit Won Gold At Paris Expo 1900

The Du Bois Exhibit won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle, April 15 to November 12, 1900. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois designed the extensive multimedia exhibit, using factual information to shatter racist stereotypes of the day. He collaborated with Thomas Calloway, a lawyer and primary organizer of the exhibit and Daniel Murray, the Assistant Librarian of Congress.

The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 was the largest in history at 543 acres with nearly 50 million visitors from around the world. A sociological display within the Palace of Social Economy, the Du Bois exhibit included approximately 500 photographs of black Americans at work, leisure, worship, home, and school. It also featured close to 60 leading edge infographics charting African American advancement, along with bound volumes of nearly 400 patents by Black Americans and a bibliography of 1,400 titles. He organized the documents into albums for Georgia specifically and the U.S.A. in general.

In the American Monthly Review of Reviews  (November 1900 p. 576) Du Bois wrote:

“In the right-hand corner, however, as one enters, is an exhibit which, more than most others in the building, is sociological in the larger sense of the term–that is, is an attempt to give, in as systematic and compact a form as possible, the history and present condition of a large group of human beings. This is the exhibit of American Negroes, planned and executed by Negroes, and collected and installed under the direction of a Negro special agent, Mr. Thomas J. Calloway.

“In this exhibit there are, of course, the usual paraphernalia 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.”

Why W.E.B. Du Bois?

Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Scholar, author, sociologist and activist, Du Bois earned a B.A. at Fisk University and in 1895 was the first Black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. He became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University in 1897. Among his many achievements to combat racism, he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

W.E.B. Du Bois actively encouraged other Black American intellectuals of his time to research Black history. Among them was Arturo Schomburg, who went on to establish the Negro Society for Historical Research in 1911 and was appointed president of the American Negro Academy. His massive collection is located at the New York Public Library.

Du Bois was committed to combating racism through empirical evidence of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of African Americans. According to the Library of Congress:

“He believed that a clear revelation of the facts of African American life and culture would challenge the claims of biological race scientists influential at the time, which proposed that African Americans were inherently inferior to Anglo-Americans.”

The wide variety of photographs of affluent young African American men and women chosen for the Du Bois Exhibit challenged the popular racist caricatures that diminished African American social and economic success.

The American Hall Reviewed By Colored American Magazine

The Colored American Magazine was launched in Boston on May 19, 1900. It was one of the first monthly magazines created to showcase Black achievements, culture and politics. The Colored American Magazine often referenced itself as “the only high-class illustrated monthly in the world devoted exclusively to the interests of the Negro Race.”

Morris Lewis was Attaché to the U.S. Commission to the Paris Exposition. In the October 1900 edition of The Colored American Magazine (p.295) , he published Paris and the International Exposition” in which he described America’s presence at the Paris Expo of 1900 in general terms, with special attention to the Du Bois Exhibit.

 “The Negro Exhibit in the Palace of Social Economy on the banks of the Seine is one of particular interest, in that it shows to the world the progress made by a race of but thirty years’ freedom. This exhibit is successfully installed in a corner of the United States section, and among other objects consists chiefly of photographs of the Negro educational institutions of the United States. Booker T. Washington’s school at Tuskegee, Ala., has on exhibition a very fine collection of work turned out at the school, consisting of wood-turning, joining, painting, graining, forging, harness-making, etc. A large portrait of Booker T. Washington hangs above the exhibit. “

Lewis mentions the inclusion of photos of the late Hon. B.K. Bruce and Jon. Judson W. Lyons who became the first African American attorney in Georgia in 1884.

“Many books are here by colored authors. A series of charts giving statistics with reference the status of the Negro in the United States, and especially in the state of Georgia, are neatly arranged in wing frames. These were prepared at Atlanta University, Atlanta, Ga., under the direction of Prof. W. E. B. Du Bois. A bronze statuette of the Hon. Frederick Douglass is on exhibition, this being a facsimile of the statue to Doug- lass in Rochester, N. Y. This collective exhibit has received a “grand prize.”

The Du Bois Exhibit was highly praised.

In the Spring of 1900, Paris Exposition judges awarded him a gold medal for his role as “collaborator” and “compiler” of materials for the exhibit.

For additional photographs from the time, visit our post “Stylish Black Victorians Seen Through Lenses.”

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