Why blacks weren’t at the fair

Image: Pam Rice (click on image for larger file size)

Someone was missing from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893: black Americans.

An interactive exhibition at the African American Cultural Center‚ “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition‚” considers why.

The exhibition, inspired by the same-titled pamphlet co-authored by famed civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, is displayed in 207 Addams Hall through Dec. 20.

It highlights the historical accounts of black Americans’ thoughts, feelings and experiences related to the Chicago’s World’s Fair.

The exhibition draws on the 120th anniversary of the exposition to explore how blacks felt about their exclusion from the planning processes, some of the lesser-known contributions of black Chicagoans during that period, and ethnic representation in the fair’s exhibits.

“The occasion presents an important opportunity to not only raise questions concerning the fair’s legacy, but also enter contemporary debates over who benefits from large-scale public festivities in Chicago,” says Lori Baptista, director of the African American Cultural Center.

The center received a $5,000 Illinois Humanities Council grant for public programming for the exhibit.

Plans include a series of monthly events presented with Chicago-area institutions, including the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The African American Cultural Center is developing “traveling suitcases” for K-12 classrooms, senior centers and community organizations, with materials for exploring World’s Fair-related sites in the city. The toolkits also support social science curricular goals set by Chicago Public Schools.

“It’s our hope that the installations and related public programs will elicit valuable conversations on topics that remain relevant today,” Baptista says.

“The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Evening, weekend and group tours can be scheduled by appointment. For more information, call 312-996-9549.

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