Darkies and Negroes: Black Faces at the
Pan American Exposition of 1901, Buffalo, New York
THE NEGRO EXHIBIT AT THE PAN AMERICAN EXPOSITION
numbering fewer than two thousand residents in 1901, members of Buffaloís
Black community had a long history of civic and community activism.
For example, one group, though newly formed, had in a little more
than a year distinguished itself as a vocal force within the black community
and the community at large. The
Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women was founded in 1899.
It was an affiliate of the National Association of Colored Womenís
Clubs. That group was organized
in 1896 as the result of the merger of two organizations:
the National Federation of Afro-American Women and the National
League of Colored Women.
club women quickly initiated numerous activities designed to carry out
the mission of the national organization and there-by provide tangible
credence to its motto; ìLifting as We Climb.î
A newspaper article of the time lauded the women and the club for
the ì...splendid work along educational and philanthropic lines...î of
the organization. The article continued, ìÖSlowly but surely they are climbing
and lifting. By helping one
another they are building up their race, removing the blemishes and deformities
left by the oppressorís rod.ì1
the spring of 1901, the Phyllis Wheatley Club counted over two hundred
women in its membership. Membership
was free and open to all who shared the organizationís philosophy and
were willing to contribute time and talents.
In the short time following itís incorporation the Phyllis Wheatley
Club had a number of impressive accomplishments to its credit.
the leadership of its president, Mrs. Susan C. Evans, vice-president,
Mrs. John H. Dover and corresponding secretary Mrs. William
H. Talbert, the club had established an Old Folkís Home, given a Christmas
dinner for between four and five hundred poor, two-thirds of whom were
reported to be white, established a motherís club to teach proper parenting,
donated books by Black authors to school libraries and established a committee
to visit the schools to insure that colored children were on a par with
March 1901 article did not, however, make mention of one of the other
major activities of the club; its advocacy for placement of the Paris
Negro Exhibit at the Pan American Exposition and inclusion of Negro representation
on the Expositionís commission.
In fact, the Phyllis Wheatley Club had organized a meeting on November
12th the previous year, at which they decried the ìprejudiceî
of Exposition officials.
reported by the Commercial, ìA well attended and enthusiastic meeting
of the Phyllis Club of Colored Women was held yesterday afternoon in the
Michigan Street Baptist ChurchÖit has taken up the matter of a Negro exhibit
at the Pan-American Exposition, and the meeting was held for the purpose
of taking action regarding the matter.î3
William H. Talbert (Mary) read an essay at the meeting entitled ìWhy the
American Negro should be represented at the Pan-American Exposition.î
According to the article, Mrs. Talbert stated that ìÖthe Negro
exhibit at the Paris Exposition had attracted the notice of the world,
and that the exhibit should be brought to the Pan American Exposition.
Our exposition, she said was the only one that had not made early
provision for a Negro exhibit.î4
The meeting concluded with the passage of resolutions ìÖ.to the
effect that immediate steps should be taken to inform the exposition officials
of the desire of the colored people for a Negro exhibit, and declaring
that the Negroes of Buffalo were unanimous in demanding that a colored
commissioner be appointed.î5
Mary Talbertís name was mentioned as an individual with strong
credentials for the position.
in attendance at the meeting who supported the resolutions of the club
included, James A. Ross, described as a ìwell-known colored politicianî
and Mrs. A.B. Wilson, President of the Central Union of the Womenís Christian
Temperance Union. A number
of un-named whites reportedly joined Mrs. Wilson in supporting the Phyllis
Wheatley Clubís call to action.
Phyllis Wheatley Club also garnered national support from other African
American communities. An article appearing in the December 1st
edition of the Cleveland Gazette recounted the events of the meeting and
stated, ìthus far not a single representative of the race has been properly
placed by the management of the Pan American Exposition; either as director,
superintendent of a department, honorary vice-president or even clerk
in any of the departments. Our
people here are indignant at this discrimination and held a meeting November
12th in one of our churches under the auspices of the Phyllis
Wheatley Club, composed exclusively of women.î6
women wasted no time in implementing their resolutions. An article in
the November 13th edition of the Courier was primarily
devoted to a report on the Exposition Commissionís meeting to discuss
the Rhode Island building. However,
the following is imbedded within this article; ìThe Phyllis Club of Colored
Women of this city has begun active preparations of a Pan American exhibit
which will be devoted entirely to the colored race.
They will confer with the Pan American officials in regard to such
five weeks after the meeting at the Michigan Street Baptist Church
(pictured to left), Thomas J. Calloway is reported to be visiting
the city. The Commercial
(12-24-1900) printed a small insert in an article on the Rhode Island
exhibit, that noted, ìThomas J. Calloway, special agent of the United
States commission to the Paris Exposition is in the city.
He came here to propose to the exposition management the utilizing
and installing of the Negro exhibit shown at ParisÖî8
a lengthier article, on the same date, the Express quoted Mr. Calloway
as saying, ìI have come to Buffalo to present to the management of the
Pan-American Exposition the proposition of utilizing and installing the
Negro exhibit shown at Paris....î The article described in some detail
a number of elements that comprised the exhibit, the medals awarded to
it in Paris, and the amount of the federal appropriation.
Calloway also came armed with a letter from Howard J. Rogers, Director
Education and Social Economy, United States Commission.
Dated, November 23, 1900, the letter congratulated Calloway for
the fine job he had done in developing and implementing the exhibit.
Rogers expressed his believe that the exhibit would be ìÖhighly
appreciated by our own countrymen.î
Furthermore, he stated, ìI sincerely trust that the exhibit may
be seen by our people at Buffalo with such additions as your exposition
experience may make....î9
underscored the educational and motivational objectives of the exhibit.
However, he did not miss the opportunity to point out the possible
use of the exhibit to increase revenue at the exposition.
He said, ìThere are two reasons why this exhibit ought to be emphasized
here. One is that it will
serve as an encouragement to the colored people throughout the country,
thousands of whom would come and pay admission to the exposition to see
it.î10 He explained that the second reason
was to demonstrate to whites how money that theyíd given to educate the
freedman had been well spent.
this visit by Calloway, it appears that there was no question that the
Negro Exhibit would become a part of the Pan-American Exposition.
In fact, Dr. Selim H. Peabody, director of the Liberal Arts division
of the exposition, reported in a January 6, 1901 Express interview
that the Negro Exhibit from the Paris Exposition ìÖwill be transferred
to the Pan American Exposition and here is an item of news for you
it has been decided to place it under the supervision of some person,
not yet designated by the Exposition Company, of the Negro race.î11
this time, we have not found further reference to this individual nor
his/her name. However, the
release of a long lost pamphlet for the Negro Exhibit and other documents
provide information that identifies Mr. James A. Ross as the un-named
individual. Mr. Ross was
identified earlier as a ìwell-known politicianî who, along with the Phyllis
Wheatley Club, advocated for the Negro Exhibit.
In addition to his political activities, Mr. Ross was a businessman
and publisher. He published
the Gazetteer and Guide beginning in November 1901.
A description of this publication notes that the first two issues
carried articles by Booker T. Washington.12
In addition, more than half of the space in the magazine was devoted
to advertisement from businesses in Canada and the United States.
Coincidentally, the Pan American Souvenir Pamphlet produced by
Ross is heavily subscribed to by local businesses.
In fact, this pamphlet is the only one from the Pan American Exposition
to contain any advertisements (personal communication, William Loos, Curator
Rare Books, Buffalo and Erie County Library).
Phyllis Wheatley Club was determined that the Negro Exhibit would have
a place at the Pan American Exposition.
The success of that advocacy has been confirmed by irrefutable
proof that the exhibit did arrive for the exposition.
However, when the exhibit was brought to the exposition, it was
housed in the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building. Just how many people would have visited the exhibit is unknown.
The location of the exhibit undoubtedly removed it from the easy
and visible access accorded the Darkest Africa
and the Old Plantation exhibits and would
have negatively impacted the number of fair goers who could have seen
A question has been raised about the response of the Phyllis Wheatley Club to the Darkest Africa and Old Plantation Midway exhibits. There is no ìevidenceî that we have found, at this time that confirms that the club actively protested against these exhibits. Yet it is inconceivable that these clubwomen would not have had strong opposition to the portrayal of Blacks by the Midway exhibits. Black womenís activism for a voice in the portrayal and representation of blacks in worldís fairs precedes the Pan American Exposition. Members of the NACW had been in the forefront of those protests. In addition the philosophy that undergird the organizationís mission emphasized undertaking activities that advanced the race and led to an improved quality of life, in all aspects. We will, in future updates, expand on the response to this question.
 ìOnly Colored women are members of the Phyllis Wheatley Club.î The Sunday Courier. Week ending March 31, 1901.
 ìNegro Exhibit: Buffalo Negroes think their race should be recognized at the Pan American Exposition." Commercial. November 13, 1900.
 ìPan-American Exposition Color Line.î Cleveland Gazette, vol. 18, no. 17, December 1, 1900.
 ìContracts for more buildings: Rhode Island Commissioners Report on the outlook for Pan American and recommend a building.î Courier, November 13, 1900.
 ìRhode Island. Manufacturers of the state want every inch of space possible at the Pan American. Paris Negro Exhibit.î Commercial, December 24, 1900.
 ìNegro Exhibit at Exposition. Special Agent Callowayís mission. Wants the Pan American to take the Paris Exhibit, and enlarge it.î Express, December 24, 1900.
 ìLiberal Arts Exhibit (Interview with Dr. S.H. Peabody).î Express, January 6, 1901. Bullock, Penelope L. The Afro American Periodical Press, 1838-1909. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Co-developers in this project are by Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr. P.H. and Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Ph.D. The material seen in this section of buffalonian.com is reposted with permission from the website entitled, UNCROWNED QUEENS http://wings.buffalo.edu/uncrownedqueens was launched on February 15, 2001 and began a year-long celebration of the accomplishments of these women, to culminate in a book entitled, African, Darkies and Negroes: Black Faces at the Pan American Exposition of 1901.
Note: This history page is a work in progress. The subject of the Africans and Africans at the Pan American Exposition of 1901 is a very complicated and involved story. We wanted to at least provide you with a beginning of some of the important matters involving Africans and their descendants in this world-wide event. References are being updated daily and corrections and additions occur daily as well. Please be patient with us as we gather together the history of this momentous event. Thank you.
© 2001 Uncrowned Queens