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30 Rare Portraits of African American Life in 1900

Avatar • Oct 14, 2015

Many American students have been taught about the landmark 1900 World’s Fair held for 7 months in Paris and attended by more than 48 million people. Far less known is the Exhibit of American Negroes, coordinated by three African American men — scholar W.E.B. Dubois, assistant librarian at the Library of Congress Daniel Murray, and lawyer Thomas Calloway. The purpose of the exhibit, which was housed at the World’s Fair, was to showcase African American life, achievement and contributions to society. Dubois described it as “an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves. In a way this marks an era in the history of the Negroes of America.”

The exhibit included more than 500 photos as well as black scholarly work, official paperwork displaying black inventions and documentation on the progress of blacks since the Civil War.

The exhibit came at a difficult time for African Americans. Slavery had been abolished just 35 years earlier, and lynchings were at an all-time high. Not surprisingly it was largely ignored by mainstream American newspapers. Nonetheless it is a fascinating picture of African American life at the turn of the century.

Home of an African American lawyer, Atlanta, Georgia, with men, women, and children posed on porch of house

Home of an African American lawyer, Atlanta, Georgia, with men, women, and children posed on porch of house

Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 - dining hall

Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 — dining hall

5 female Negro officers of Women's League, Newport, R.I.

5 female Negro officers of Women’s League, Newport, R.I.

Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, La.

Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, La.

Group of Children from the Model School, Fisk University, Nashville Tenn.

Group of Children from the Model School, Fisk University, Nashville Tenn.

Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - elementary school students exercise

Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 — elementary school students exercise

Two African American children sitting on steps to porch

Two African American children sitting on steps to porch

Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia

Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia

African American girl, half-length portrait, with right hand to cheek, with illustrated book on table

African American girl, half-length portrait, with right hand to cheek, with illustrated book on table

African American children posed for portrait on a porch

African American children posed for portrait on a porch

Kindergarten at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Augusta, Georgia.

Kindergarten at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Augusta, Georgia.

Sewing class at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Augusta, Georgia

Sewing class at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Augusta, Georgia

African American women holding umbrellas to provide shade from the sun, with two men, and with a building (church or meeting house) in the background

African American women holding umbrellas to provide shade from the sun, with two men, and with a building (church or meeting house) in the background

African American boy standing with horse attached to plow

African American boy standing with horse attached to plow

Two African American children feeding chickens in a fenced-in yard

Two African American children feeding chickens in a fenced-in yard

African Americans standing outside of a church

African Americans standing outside of a church

African Americans in church in Georgia

African Americans in church in Georgia

Two African American children with a dog in Georgia

Two African American children with a dog in Georgia

African American man giving piano lesson to young African American woman

African American man giving piano lesson to young African American woman

African American boy seated on porch of house, another African American boy standing with bicycle on porch of another house, with two young African American women on steps, Georgia

African American boy seated on porch of house, another African American boy standing with bicycle on porch of another house, with two young African American women on steps, Georgia

African American men and women posed for portrait on steps

African American men and women posed for portrait on steps

African American family posed for portrait seated on lawn

African American family posed for portrait seated on lawn

Members of the First Congregational Church, Atlanta, Georgia, posed outside the brick church

Members of the First Congregational Church, Atlanta, Georgia, posed outside the brick church

Roger Williams University--Nashville, Tenn.--Normal class

Roger Williams University–Nashville, Tenn.–Normal class

Houses on unpaved street in Georgia

Houses on unpaved street in Georgia

Leigh Street Pharmacy, Richmond, Va.

Leigh Street Pharmacy, Richmond, Va.

Company D, 8th Illinois Volunteer Regiment

Company D, 8th Illinois Volunteer Regiment

David Tobias Howard, an undertaker, his mother, and wife, Atlanta, Georgia; seated in a horse-drawn carriage with tree-shaded house in background

David Tobias Howard, an undertaker, his mother, and wife, Atlanta, Georgia; seated in a horse-drawn carriage with tree-shaded house in background

Two African American children feeding chickens in a yard in Georgia

Two African American children feeding chickens in a yard in Georgia

African American man and woman, half-length portrait, standing in barnyard

African American man and woman, half-length portrait, standing in barnyard

Wow! Ladies, what are your thoughts? You can see more photos and documents here.

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BikoDWOjanwww.vintageclothesretro.comUviwe Lupuwana Recent comment authors
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Julia P.
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Julia P.

Really, really cool. Love it!

Daisy
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Daisy

Thanks for sharing this. Wonderful! Do they know the photographers?

blackgirllonghair
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blackgirllonghair

Unfortunately no. These pictures are from the Library of Congress and no photographer is identified.

Sheilala
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Sheilala

The one with the girl and man at the piano is stunning. When I was a little girl I loved watching and reading about this period and I always asked to see regular pictures of black folks not related to slavery and they were just not accessible. Too often, when we look into our history we start at the point of conflict when people were fighting for rights or for freedom which is important but it’s nice to see us woven within the fabric of early American life going to school, church, farming and playing.

Christina J
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Wow 1900? This pictures are awesome remembrances of African American history. I absolutely love the way everyone dressed: poised and respectable. I love these!

Saran
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Saran

the girl on the photo labelled “African American girl, half-length portrait, with right hand to cheek, with illustrated book on table” is strikingly beautiful

Marmaduke
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Marmaduke

great look into their daily lives and a lot of those hairstyles were stunning! wish they had tutorials ahaha

but seriously was this around the time of the hot comb? I’m not even sure when relaxers came about to be honest. but I need answers and I need tutorials!

www.vintageclothesretro.com
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yep, they had hot combs & very primitive relaxers back in the day

Tracienatural
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Tracienatural

Very, very nice. I truly enjoy the historical articles on this blog!

Cosita
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Cosita

I won’t lie. My family has quite a few pics that nobody living knows or remembers who the people are. Write it on the back while you can. my aunt’s husband’s family has one of a guy in his tennis outfit holding a racket that I love.

Uviwe Lupuwana
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Uviwe Lupuwana

They all look amazing. Nice to see us so dignified and beautiful instead of what the media always shows us. Lovely.

jan
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jan

As a librarian I thank you for sharing.

DWO
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DWO

Awesome pictures.

Brownbutterfly
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Brownbutterfly

Beautiful black people simply.

michele
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michele

Beautiful pictures. however what always surprised on BGLH (but I guess this would be the same in any bloack-oriented magasine in the United states) is how the people are always labelled black or african american even when it is obvious that they are mixed (even if this mix came from 100yers ago you are still mixed). To me as a “real” african woman it is like refusing a full part of your history. While it might be understandable to reject the white heritatge because of the history and abuse it might carry, I am really unconformable because you also reject… Read more »

Biko
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Biko

This is a great example of how the facts can be strewn together to sew the seeds of division and mistrust in a way that seems, at once, diabolically briliant, and blissfully ignorant. As you may note, neither one of those descriptions are good.

TWA4now
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TWA4now

Rare and awesome pictures we DON’T see often.

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