Cover image for 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 African American portraits of progress
Lewis, David L., 1936-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Amistad, [2003]

Physical Description:
208 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes 150 of the photographs that W.E.B. Du Bois included in his display on African Americans in Georgia exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The photographs then traveled to Buffalo and were exhibited at the Pan-American Exposition as part of the Negro Exhibit. These photographs are part of the Daniel Murray Collection at the Library of Congress.
Small nation of people : W.E.B. Du Bois and Black Americans at the turn of the twentieth century / Sociologist's eye : W.E.B. Du Bois and the Paris Exposition / Selections from the photographs at the Exposition des Nègres d'Amérique, "Exhibit of American Negroes, " Paris Exposition, 1900
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.86 .S6325 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.86 .S6325 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185.86 .S6325 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room-Buffalo Collection Non-Circ
E185.86 .S6325 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E185.86 .S6325 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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As the world prepared for the Exposition Universalle de 1900 in Paris, W. E. B. Du Bois was approached to help represent African American life. He came with a cache of stunning photographs to illustrate the progress of Negroes in America -- thereby offering a photographic counterpoint to the prolific stereotyping of blacks that left viewers awestruck.

With insights from Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis and Mac-Arthur Fellow photo historian Deborah Willis, A Small Nation of People presents more than one hundred and fifty of these important photographs together for the first time since their initial unveiling. Here is an incredible treasure trove of illustrations of African Americans in front of their new businesses, universities, and homes -- sometimes modest, sometimes elegant. Here, too, are beautiful Victorian-era portraits of blacks whose varied hues show how diverse black Americans truly were. Viewed together, the collection reveals in glorious detail what Du Bois saw -- a small nation of people prepared to make their mark on America.

Author Notes

David Levering Lewis is the Martin Luther King Professor of History at Rutgers University & was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919" received the Bancroft, Parkman, & Pulitzer prizes, & was a finalist for the National Book Award & National Book Critics Circle Award. He also wrote "W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

W. E. B. DuBois was charged with preparing an exhibit to represent the lives of black Americans for the 1900 International Exposition in Paris, a task the U.S. government had blatantly ignored. DuBois approached the assignment as an opportunity to counteract negative stereotypes of black Americans, presenting instead photographs depicting the industry, intelligence, and diversity of African Americans in their lives--at church, school, and work, and in family portraits. Daniel Alexander Payne Murray, a man born to freed slaves who became the personal assistant to the Librarian of Congress in 1871, maintained the collection and left it to his employer. In this impressive book, the library offers 150 of the collected photographs, accompanied by essays providing historic context and analyzing the significance of DuBois' efforts to provide an accurate portrayal of the accomplishments, aspirations, and lives of black Americans at a time when racism and stereotypes abounded in the U.S. Readers interested in African American history from the turn of the twentieth century will love this rare glimpse of photographs from that era. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.