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What Black Independence Looked Like in 1900

W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington helped create these striking visuals of life for free African Americans at the turn of the 20th century.
relates to What Black Independence Looked Like in 1900
Library of Congress

In 1852, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked an audience what the Fourth of July should mean to a population of enslaved African Americans. Forty-eight years later, still pondering the question of “independence” for the formerly enslaved, a group of black researchers attempted to quantify the answer in sociological terms. Among this study group was the noted scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, a man normally billed as Du Bois’ intellectual rival. Together, they worked under the tutelage of the prominent black lawyer Thomas J. Calloway to create an exhibit for the Paris Exposition Universelle world’s fair in 1900.

The researchers worked with students from historically black colleges including Atlanta University and Tuskegee to compile hundreds of photographs, maps, and other illustrations documenting the African-American experience in the decades after slavery. Dubbed “The Negro Exhibit,” it was a true FUBU operation—meaning “planned and executed by Negroes,” as Du Bois referred to it in an article for the November 1900 edition of The American Monthly Review of Reviews.