A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress

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An incredible treasure trove of more than 150 illustrations detailing a small nation of African Americans prepared to make their mark on America

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A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress

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Overview

An incredible treasure trove of more than 150 illustrations detailing a small nation of African Americans prepared to make their mark on America

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Editorial Reviews

Juan Williams
“An eye opening treasure....The family album of black America.”
Thelma Golden
“Imbued with grace and dignity...A rare look at the progress being made by....forebearers in an important, longstanding tradition.”
Leslie King-Hammond
“A must read book for everyone and anyone concerned with the historical evolution of American history, culture and identity.”
Black Issues Book Review
“A landmark book.”
Booklist
“Impressive....Readers...will love this rare glimpse of photographs.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“More than just a pretty cover....[A Small Nation of People] will provide...enjoyment for months and years to come.”
Booklist
“Impressive....Readers...will love this rare glimpse of photographs.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“More than just a pretty cover....[A Small Nation of People] will provide...enjoyment for months and years to come.”
Black Issues Book Review
“A landmark book.”
The Washington Post
Willis's essay will help contemporary readers regard the many evocative black-and-white images in their proper historical context, as will the informative essay by Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis. — Jabari Asim
Publishers Weekly
After his 1895 speech advocating economic opportunities for African-Americans, the press asked of Booker T. Washington, "Is He a New Negro?" According to photographic historian Deborah Willis, the term "New Negro" became shorthand for "a spirit of self-awareness, artistic consciousness, and racial pride," a spirit that has been captured in this 8" 8" book of 150 late-19th-century duotone photographs. The images, used by W.E.B. Du Bois for his "Exhibit of American Negroes" at the 1900 Paris World's Fair, depict African-American businesses, churches, homes and schools, as well as African-Americans themselves, usually in the stiff collar, plumed hat and pince-nez of the middle class. The goal of the exhibition, writes Levering Lewis, author of a multi-volume Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Du Bois, was to show African-Americans as "a proud, productive, and cultured race." In their introductory articles, Lewis and Willis both tell the history of the exhibition and interpret the photographs. If they occasionally lapse into awkward academic prose, their essays provide welcome context for the pictures, which are more informative about period conventions than moving, possibly because Du Bois saw them as sociological markers and neglected to take the subjects' or the photographers' names. Perhaps the photographs' most significant feature is the response they generated. At the world's fair, Du Bois and his exhibition won gold medals; in America, the exhibition and its success received no press at all. Furthermore, Lewis astutely points out the parallel between America's eagerness to impress Europe and African-Americans' eagerness to impress America: using the stage of the world's fair, both groups frankly lobbied for legitimacy as "culturally mature." In subsequent years, however, the international perception of America improved, while race relations at home deteriorated. Except for these photographs, preserved in the Library of Congress, the constructed image of the New Negro was dropped from history. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book revisits the American Negro Exhibit of the 1900 International Exposition in Paris with a focus on the contributions made by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois, then a sociology professor at Atlanta University, chose photographs for the exhibit to illustrate African American life after Emancipation. This volume constitutes the first substantial photographic reassembly of the 1900 exhibit and includes 162 photographs, mostly from the Library of Congress. Essays by Lewis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Du Bois biographer, and Willis, NYU photography professor and author of A History of Black Photographers, 1840-Present, discuss the importance of the uplifting subject matter of the pictures, which includes black men and women in business and education. They also note the exhibit's avoidance of lynching photography and stereotypically exotic depictions of Africans. Given the essays' discussions of key people and events, it is unfortunate that the text is not indexed; however, the complete listing of photographs including their physical locations is useful. Recommended for academic libraries as well as specialized African American and history of photography collections.-Eric Linderman, East Cleveland P.L., OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060817565
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/4/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

A MacArthur Fellow, David Levering Lewis is the author of several books, including W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century and Du Bois: Biography of a Race. He was awarded the Pulizter for both books, which is unprecedented. A Professor of History at NYU, he has also taught at Rutgers University.

A photo historian, curator, and photographer, Deborah Willis is chair and professor of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Photography and Imaging. A Guggenheim, Fletcher, and MacArthur fellow, she lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Preface 11
Introduction 13
A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and Black Americans at the Turn of the Twentieth Century 23
The Sociologist's Eye: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Paris Exposition 51
Selections from the Photographs at the Exposition des Negres d'Amerique, "Exhibit of American Negroes," Paris Exposition, 1900 79
Notes 198
About the Photographs 201
Acknowledgments 207
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First Chapter

A Small Nation of People
W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress

A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and Black Americans at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

by David Levering Lewis

The African American newspaper the Colored American brought good news in July 1900: "Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois sailed this week for Europe." The stylish young professor -- who in Paris would pose in morning coat and top hat -- was sailing from New York with several trunks filled with materials for the Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris Exposition, a world's fair celebrating the close of the nineteenth century. He left his wife, Nina, five months pregnant, in Atlanta, where Du Bois taught at the university. He recalled being "threatened with nervous prostration" after finishing his part of the Negro Exhibit and having "little money left to buy passage to Paris, nor was there a cabin left for sale." Knowing well that the exhibit would fail without him, he took steerage.

Du Bois had been enlisted to participate in the Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris Exposition by his friend Thomas Junius Calloway. When they were undergraduates together at Fisk University, Du Bois described Calloway as carrying himself with the distinction of a United States senator. Tom Calloway was a man of studious purpose and racial pride whose virtues proved singularly helpful in the years ahead to the undertakings of Du Bois, his even more studious and racially focused classmate. Together they had run the Fisk Herald, the oldest of the Negro college magazines, with Du Bois as managing editor in 1887 and Calloway as business manager. When Du Bois, fresh from graduate study at the University of Berlin, applied to several institutions for a teaching position in the summer of 1894, he listed good friend Calloway, now principal of Mississippi's Alcorn College, as one of his references. Appointed one of the state commissioners for the Atlanta and Cotton States Exposition of 1895, Calloway became a valued lieutenant of Booker T. Washington, principal of Tuskegee Institute, whose oration at the Atlanta Exposition that year excited the nation. Washington called for whites in the South to allow blacks gradual economic progress in agriculture and business, in exchange for the latter's virtual surrender of the right to vote and social equality. His speech became known as the Atlanta Compromise.

At the turn of the century, Washington was the most influential man of color in America. In his congratulatory telegram to the Tuskegee educator on his speech, Du Bois doubtless spoke as much for himself as for Calloway in stating that Washington's accommodationist message to the white South was "a word fitly spoken." Two years later, Calloway accepted the position of assistant principal of Tuskegee. Publication of Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, the book that would crystallize fierce antagonisms between the followers of Washington and Du Bois, was a half dozen years in the future.

The brief interval between the Atlanta Exposition of 1895 and the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 was one of relative harmony and collaboration within the emergent Negro leadership class, in both the North and the South. The initial unease experienced by a tiny, mainly Northern minority upon reading Dr. Washington's race-relations prescriptions would simmer slowly at first as the century turned, erupting as full-blown, widespread skepticism only in the decade after the appearance of The Souls of Black Folk. Yet, even then, Du Bois himself would betray an astonishingly elitist indulgence of the franchise restrictions imposed by the states of the former Confederacy upon the black and white poor alike. "The alternative thus offered the nation," he wrote in Souls, "was not between full and restricted Negro suffrage; else every sensible man, black and white, would easily have chosen the latter." If Booker Washington and his disciples wagered their souls that the right to vote could be honorably traded for the privilege of black prosperity in the South, Du Bois and his allies defended the franchise not as a universal right but as a class privilege essential to promoting the highest civic virtue above, as well as below, the Mason-Dixon Line. That both formulas were tragically defective as solutions to the so-called race problem would lead to the paradox that the dominant Washington group and the Du Boisian minority blamed each other for the dismal state of race relations that was caused primarily by white America.

In the winter of 1899, however, when Thomas Calloway sent an appeal to leaders of the race to lend their support for a Negro exhibit at the Paris Exposition, all shades of opinion united in positive response. The letter perfectly exemplified the citizenship ideals of its recipients: men and women like Archibald Grimke, Mary Terrell, and Monroe Trotter, who thought of themselves first as Americans, who merely happened to be dark-skinned. They were people who preferred to conceive of identity in terms of nation rather than race. "The signs of the times are hopeful in every way for all our citizens regardless of race," trumpeted the Colored American, a weekly newspaper published in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1900. Indeed, many, if not most, would come reluctantly to embrace the dichotomy of racial identity famously postulated by Du Bois when he wrote of an everlasting "two-ness -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body."

Not until the time when all hope of political rights and social equality had been definitively foreclosed in the second decade of the twentieth century (the "nadir," as the era would be called) did Calloway and other leading black Americans think of themselves as Negroes first. Deploring "as deeply as any other member of my race the matter of drawing the color line at any time where it is not already drawn by the other race," Calloway in his letter to influential blacks eloquently justified the exceptional reasons for a Negro pavilion at the Paris Exposition ...

A Small Nation of People
W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress
. Copyright © by Deborah Willis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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