In 1899, WEB DuBois, a man many of us associate with writing, traveled around America, compiling a collection candid pictures of African Americans living their lives at the turn of the century; these images were then sent oversea to Paris, where they were displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, under the name “Exhibit of the American Negroes.”
It’s a harsh name, but where similar shows in the past had othered black people, trying to denote their “difference” from white people, DuBois’ show both showed diversity among black people — a revolutionary concept for some people back then and, sadly, today — and exhibited the stunning banality of everyday black life. Of course, we Americans know that in the background there was hideous racism and the ever-present threat of violence, which makes the composure in and of these pictures all the more remarkable.
Here are 28 of the nearly 400 in DuBois’ show; many of these were taken by DuBois collaborator Thomas E. Eskew, and all were shot in and around Atlanta, some, I believe, not far from where I live now… All were found over at the Library of Congress.
(And for more Found in the LOC, click here.)
- Women sitting on steps at Atlanta University:
2. Family posed on their lawn, Atlanta.
3. Hanging out.
4. Local lawyer and his family.
5. One of the many portraits DuBois took that year.
6. A girl reading.
7. She seems nice.
8. And he focused.
9. Homes elsewhere in town.
10. Unpaved road, possibly Southwest Atlanta.
12. Chatting outside church.
13. Sgt. Brent Woods
14. Sgt. Jon, last name unknown
15-17. Three portraits.
18. A local pharmacy and soda jerk.
19. Sewing classes at Howard University.
20. A marching band.
21. Locals sitting by their home.
22. Men working on a railroad, possibly on Murphy Ave.
23. A man looking pensive.
24. Feeding the chickens!
25. Dentistry class at Howard University.
26. Men sitting on the steps.
27. Sisters and dog.
28. A final portrait.
For more from this incredible collection, head on over to the Library of Congress.