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Collection African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition

Materials Compiled by W.E.B. Du Bois

At the turn of the century, W. E. B. Du Bois compiled a series of photographs for the "American Negro" exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. He organized the 363 images into albums, entitled Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. and Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A..

At the time, Du Bois was a professor of sociology at Atlanta University, committed to combating racism with empirical evidence of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of African Americans. 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 photographs of affluent young African American men and women challenged the scientific "evidence" and popular racist caricatures of the day that ridiculed and sought to diminish African American social and economic success. Further, the wide range of hair styles and skin tones represented in the photographs demonstrated that the so-called "Negro type" was in fact a diverse group of distinct individuals. The one public statement Du Bois made concerning these photographs was that visitors to the American Negro exhibit would find "several volumes of photographs of typical Negro faces, which hardly square with conventional American ideas."1

Du Bois's work for the American Negro exhibit was extensive and much 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.

Notes

  1. Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt, "The American Negro at Paris" American Monthly Review of Reviews 22:5 (November 1900): 577.

    This information was taken from text prepared by Dr. Shawn Michelle Smith for an exhibit, Photography on the Color Line, held at the Center for the Humanities, Oregon State University, 1999. Smith has written further about these images in American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture (Princeton University Press, 1999) and in "Looking at One's Self Through the Eyes of Others': W. E. B. Du Bois's Photographs for the 1900 Pa ris Exposition," African American Review 34:4 (Winter 2000): 581-599.

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