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An “Exhibition of American Negros” in Paris

January 10, 2017

Du Bois sitting in the exhibit

The 1900 Paris Exhibition introduced the world to talking films, escalators, Campbell’s Soup, and the Ferris wheel. It covered over 530 acres and was visited by nearly 50 million people. Countries and cultures were invited to showcase their achievements in an attempt to highlight the universality of humanity. And one W. E. B. Du Bois took them up on it.

By 1900, Du Bois had completed a Bachelor’s Degree from Fisk University, as well as a second Bachelor’s Degree and Ph. D. from Harvard (the first from that institution awarded to an African American). Now teaching at Atlanta University and having just published his scientific sociology work, The Philadelphia Negro, Du Bois saw an opportunity to further disseminate his work.

The “Exhibition of American Negros” was a collaborationby Du Bois, reasercher Daniel A.P. Murray, Booker T. Washington, photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, Thomas J. Calloway and others.

The exhibit contained charts, photographs and models as well as books and pamphlets by African American authors. Du Bois saw this collection as a way to present “empirical evidence of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of African Americans” according to the Library of Congress.

Over 500 photographs provided glimpses of graduating university classes, army and navy medal recipients and business owners standing outside their businesses. Present among these were several of African American owned businesses in Richmond.

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Why is the name E. J. Crane upside down in the window? We can’t know for sure, but its surmised that it was a simple marketing ploy. A customer would come in the shop to notify the owner that the sign was upside down and would perhaps stick around to make a purchase.

Stay tuned to this blog to see what information we might uncover about these and other African-American owned businesses in Richmond during the late 19th/early 20th century.

See the rest of the exhibition here.


Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt, “The American Negro at Paris” American Monthly Review of Reviews 22:5 (November 1900): 577.
Terrell, Ellen. “Du Bois in Paris – Exposition Universelle, 1900.” Inside Adams. 2015 Feb 24. 

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