African Americans at the World’s Fair

African Americans at the World’s Fair

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  1. What did visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition experience? How did the Exposition’s White City compare to the actual city of Chicago? Custom Writing Services from the Experts!


  1. Overview of the Fair

3.      The 1893 Columbian Exposition: Remembering Chicago’s White City

By Chris Linden, managing editor & web editor // Winter 2012


  1. The Fair represented a meeting point for many strands in American culture and was a manifestation of contemporary ideals of civilization and progress. “Chicago was the first expression of American thought as a unity,” Henry Adams wrote later; “one must begin there.” The Fair produced much discussion of the sources of America’s greatness and speculations on its future. At a historians’ conference during the Exposition, one of thousands of meetings and conventions held in conjunction with the event, Frederick Jackson Turner presented his famous paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” He argued that a great era in American history was ending with the closing of the Western frontier. As a complement to this argument, demonstrating the enduring mythologies of the West, Buffalo Bill set up his Wild West Show only a few blocks from the Fair site. During the Exposition his troupe gave 318 performances for a net profit of almost a million dollars.


  1. African American Presence at the World’s Fair,4,3,9 (click on picture links for more information

  • Read No Nigger Day No Nigger PamphletRead “(1893). Why did Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass propose to write a pamphlet for distribution at the 1893 World’s Fair? Why did the editors of The Freeman oppose the proposal? What does this conflict reveal about splits within African-American leaders at this time?

Read documents 10 and 11 of this project, World’s Fair Appeal “World’s Fair and Pamphlets.” What new arguments emerge in these editorials? In the end, which side of the debate do you support and why?,4,3,9 Brief description of African Americans at the fair. African Americans at the fair and elsewhere (Frederick Douglass’ speech at the fair)


Excerpt from:



The message of the Columbian Fair may have been clear, but actual lessons varied with perspective. If it stood for culture, its symmetry indicated relative positions of value, even of inclusion and exclusion. American blacks stood beyond the gates,  petitions for an exhibition, a building, or a separate department all rejected. They were denied participation in the Fair, in its administration, on the National Commission, even on the construction force and ground crews (except as menials). Indians found themselves included among the exhibitions of the ethnology department, part of a display (in Julian Ralph’s words) “to exemplify the primitive modes of life, customs, and arts of the native Peoples of the world.” Quoting the chief of that department, Ralph writes that native Americans will appear as “a living picture … each family to be living in its native habitation; the people to be dressed in native costume, surrounded by characteristic household utensils, implements, and weapons, and engaged in their native occupations and manufactures”: not exactly a Wild West show, but nevertheless a spectacle of the “savage” in a lower state of progress. Prominent blacks organized an independent ‘Jubilee” or “Colored People’s Day,” at which the distinguished Frederick Douglass renamed White City “a whited sepulcher.” Former slave, author, and statesman, Douglass attended the Fair a s commissioner from Haiti-not as citizen of his own country. In his speech at the “Jubilee” he clarified one of the lessons of the distinctions incorporated into the Fair’s spatial scheme, the contrasts between the Court of Honor and the Old World customs


and folkways, the African, Asian, and Islamic people sprawling in their costumes along the Midway Plaisance: “As if to shame of the Negro, the Dahomians are here to exhibit the Negro as a repulsive savage.” Yet a significant portion of the civilization celebrated in White City, Douglass pointed out, represented the labor of black Americans.


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