The 1900 Exposition Universelle was the biggest Paris World's Fair ever organized. Held in order "to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next," the four-day extravaganza featured new inventions from around the globe. The Eiffel Tower was painted yellow and new buildings (most notably the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais) were constructed for the occasion. When the organizers announced they were dedicating an entire building to matters of "social economy," the United States decided to organize a special exhibit titled "The Exhibit of American Negroes."
Organized by "W. E. B." Du Bois, the display featured 500 photographs, 32 charts, and 200 books written by African Americans. According to Du Bois, the exhibit was created in order to show "(a) The history of the American Negro. (b) His present condition. (c) His education. (d) His literature." The sociology professor opted to include "several volumes of photographs of typical Negro faces, which hardly square with conventional American ideas." Long story short: Du Bois attempted to counter racial stereotypes by selecting photographs of affluent young African American men and women. He later described the display as "an honest, straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their lives and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves."
All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress