Thursday, May 31, 2012

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

African American life at the turn of the 20th century is the subject of this volume, which has recently been published by the Library of Congress in association with Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

As the world prepared to celebrate a century of progress at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris, W.E.B. Du Bois, then a sociology professor at Atlanta University, was approached by Thomas Calloway, an African American lawyer who called for black participation in the exposition, to illustrate progress made by black Americans since Emancipation. Du Bois, Calloway and Daniel A. P. Murray, a son of freed slaves and assistant Librarian of Congress, compiled books, manuscripts, artifacts and some 500 photographs of people, homes, churches, businesses and landscapes that defied stereotypes. "A Small Nation of People" brings together more than 150 of these photographs in a single volume for the first time.

Known as "The Exhibit of American Negroes," the Paris display included a set of charts, maps and graphs prepared by Du Bois that recorded the growth of population, economic power and literacy among African Americans in Georgia. But it also included photographs that exemplified dignity, accomplishment and progress, showing African Americans attending universities, running businesses and serving as nuns.

In the years following the exposition, Murray succeeding in acquiring the complete set of photographs for the Library's Prints and Photographs collection. These images may be viewed on the Library's Web site in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog ( in the collection designated "African American Photographs Assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition." Prints of illustrations with reproduction numbers may be ordered from the Library's Photoduplication Service.
Essays by Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis and photo historian Deborah Willis provide the context for the choice of these photographs and their importance today.

David Levering Lewis, a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, is the author of several books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century" and "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race." He is a professor of history at New York University.

Deborah Willis, also a MacArthur Fellow, writes frequently on African American themes as well as on the history of photography. Among her more recent publications is "Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840-Present." She is a professor of photography and imaging at New York University.
"A Small Nation of People," a 208-page hardcover book with 163 duotone images, is available for $24.95 in bookstores and through the Library of Congress Sales Shop, Washington, DC 20540-4985. Credit card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557.

Click here to view Mr. Lewis and Ms. Willis talked about their book, A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress, on C-Span's BookTV.


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