Africans, Darkies and Negroes: Black Faces at the
Pan American Exposition of 1901, Buffalo, New York

THE NEGRO EXHIBIT AT THE PAN AMERICAN EXPOSITION

Although 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. 

The Buffalo 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 

In 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. 

Under 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 other children.2

The 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.  

As 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

Mrs. 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.

Others 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.

The 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

The 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 an exhibit.î7

Michigan Avenue Baptist Church: 
site of the 1900 Phyllis Wheately
Club protest of the Negro Exhibit
at the Pan Am Exposition of 1901.

Photos by Rev. W.B. Seals

Approximately 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

In 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

Calloway 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.

Following 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 

At 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).

The 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 it.

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.

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REFERENCES

[1] ìOnly Colored women are members of the Phyllis Wheatley Club.î  The Sunday Courier.  Week ending March 31, 1901.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ìNegro Exhibit:  Buffalo Negroes think their race should be recognized at the Pan American Exposition."  Commercial.  November 13, 1900.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ìPan-American Exposition Color Line.î  Cleveland Gazette, vol. 18, no. 17, December 1, 1900.

[7] ìContracts for more buildings:  Rhode Island Commissioners Report on the outlook for Pan American and recommend a building.î  Courier, November 13, 1900.

[8] ìRhode Island.  Manufacturers of the state want every inch of space possible at the Pan American.  Paris Negro Exhibit.î  Commercial, December 24, 1900.

[9] 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.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ìLiberal Arts Exhibit (Interview with Dr. S.H. Peabody).î  Express, January 6, 1901.

[12] 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.


Copyright © 2001 Uncrowned Queens 
This Page has been donated to buffalonian.com by Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr. P.H. and Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Ph.D. No portion of Uncrowned Queens shall be duplicated without expressed written permission of the authors and buffalonian.com.

 

 

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