I was directed to these spectacular charts by a Facebook friend. The charts were created by sociology students at Atlanta University under the supervision of W. E. B. DuBois for the “American Negro” exhibit at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.
I learned more about the charts on two design blogs, All My Eyes and Fast Code Design, and the originals can be found at the Library of Congress. However, the best source for the context and history behind exhibit and DuBois’ role in pulling it together is provided by Professor Eugene F. Provenzo of the University of Miami.
From Professor Provenzo’s website,
The Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris 1900 Exposition provided Du Bois with an important opportunity to not only advance the sociological study of blacks, but to begin to bring into focus the intellectual and social accomplishments of black Americans, as well as their social, cultural and political experience. The exhibit in Paris is important for a number of reasons. For contemporary historians and sociologists, it provides an extraordinary snapshot of the conditions of black culture and society in the United States at the turn of the century. At the same time, it represents an important stage in Du Bois’s work as an empirical sociologist. In the exhibit–particularly in Du Bois’ study of the Georgia Negro–are found the fundamental components a new sociology of black Americans, as well as a review of the social, cultural, literary and political experience of black Americans from the Colonial period to the year 1900.
While these are the only three surviving color charts, Professor Provenzo has three pages of beautiful black and white reproductions.
Three things about these charts and the history behind them catch my attention. First, DuBois’ influence as a sociologist and teacher is seen very tangibly in the exhibit. Second, the charts provide a poignant snapshot of the years after Reconstruction as Jim Crow laws were being enacted across the south. Third, as art and/or graphic design these charts stand up to any info graphic created today.