Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Story of Chicago’s Forgotten World’s Fair.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

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When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


After a half-century of segregation, a “Negro Building” at state, national, and world fairs didn't cut it anymore. So Chicago negro entrepreneurs organized what would be hailed as “The First Negro World’s Fair,” timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention held at the Chicago Stadium from July 15 to July 18, 1940, launching the third term candidacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The 1940 Democratic National Convention was the first to have a negro address the convention, and there were seven negro delegates.

Originally intended to mark the jubilee of the abolition of slavery, the American Negro Exposition became a landmark tribute to 20th century Negro achievement. More than a quarter-million fairgoers would view the exhibits that filled the 100,000 square foot Chicago Coliseum from July 4th thru September 2nd.

The American African Exposition of 1940 was held at the Chicago Coliseum located at 1513 South Wabash Avenue in the South Loop community. The event only ran for two months but took years to plan and received officials' endorsements ranging from Chicago's Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly all the way up to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The National Pythian Temple, Chicago, Illinois

There was interest in an exhibition noting the accomplishments of negroes at the 1933/34 Century of Progress World’s Fair, but the plans never materialized. An exhibition, known as the "African and American Negro Exposition," did come together but was held 2½ miles northeast (as the crow flys) of the Century of Progress World's Fairgrounds in the National Pythian Temple at 3737 South State Street in Chicago’s Bronzeville community. 

The site of that African Exposition was significant, as the Temple, designed in 1927 by African American architect Walter Thomas Bailey, was promoted as the “largest building financed, designed, and built by negroes.” However, its distance from the fairgrounds failed to attract a worldwide audience. Attendees were mostly from local negro communities. (The Temple was razed in 1980).

Planning for a much larger fair began in December 1934, just a few months after the Century of Progress International Exposition closed its second year. The United Cooperative League of America, Inc. was also organized in December 1934 in Chicago, with real estate businessman James W. Washington as founder and first president. Over the next five years, Washington was said to have traveled more than 135,000 miles securing endorsements for what he originally called the “Afra-Merican Emancipation Exposition.” It was to be held in 1940, the 75th anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves at the close of the Civil War. He secured the rental of the Chicago Coliseum for $22,500 ($458,000 today) on his own signature and reputation. He later received an appropriation from the State of Illinois for $75,000 ($1.4 million today), later matched by the U.S. Congress. 
Plans for a special exhibit at the American Negro Exposition detailing the history of the Negro press from John Russworm's "Freedom's Journal" to [then] present day were discussed at this meeting by representatives of leading newspapers and the Exposition. The photograph, taken at Exposition headquarters in the Appomattox Club, 3632 South Grand Boulevard (Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, today), was organized in 1900. 

The headquarters for the Exposition was 3632 South Parkway (South Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, today), although the building no longer stands. This was an important address in the black community as the former three-story stone mansion had been home to the Appomattox Club since 1920. The Club, a social and civic organization, was one of the most important gathering spots in the city for its black business and political leaders. (It closed in the late 1960s).

James Washington promoted the Exposition as “The First Real Negro World's Fair In History” and noted that its objective was to promote racial understanding and goodwill; enlighten the world on the contributions of negroes to civilization, and make negroes conscious of their dramatic progress since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Washington served as president and engaged a young attorney, Truman K. Gibson, Jr., to serve as executive director. The members of the U.S. Auxiliary Committee were personally selected by President Roosevelt. Hundreds of endorsements were received, including the American Federation of Labor, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, and the International Brotherhood of Red Caps, founded by Willard Saxly Townsend, Esq. in 1938, a union of railroad porters and other transportation employees; renamed in 1942 as a CIO affiliate.

The Exposition officially opened on Thursday, July 4, 1940, when President Roosevelt pressed a button in his Hyde Park, New York home to turn on the lights. The Entrance fee was 25¢ ($5.00 today). The keynote speaker was Chicago Mayor Kelly, who noted, in part:

“The nation pays a debt of gratitude to the Negroes today. Not alone for their contributions to the arts and sciences, not alone to the good and great names that stand out in the book of American achievement, but to the great mass of 14 million Negroes who help form the backbone of American democracy.

They deserve the good life because, in the greater part, they choose to be the good citizens. They deserve the rewards of democracy because they appreciate so well the blessings of liberty. They have given much, and they are entitled to much.”

In this hour, we need for all Americans the intense patriotic devotion of the American Negro. In the hour of peril, the American Negro has never failed his country. He will not fail it now. You may spell Afro-American with a hyphen if you will, but there is no hyphen in the Negro’s allegiance to America.”

Thursday, July 4 — Chicago Day—City Commission and Citizen's Committee
Friday, July 5 — Women's Club Day—(All Federated Women's Clubs, Northern District)
Saturday, July 6 — Illinois Manufacturers' Day
Sunday, July 7 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing (Ministers' committee)
Monday, July 8 — Athletic Day (Sports)
Tuesday, July 9 — NO EVENT
Wednesday, July 10 — Mississippi Day
Thursday, July 11 — Chicago Association of Commerce
Friday, July 12 — Florida Day
Saturday, July 13 — New York and New Jersey Day
Sunday, July 14 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing.
Monday, July 15 — Tennessee Day
Tuesday, July 16 — -Kentucky Day
Wednesday, July 17 — Louisiana Day
Thursday, July 18 — Georgia Day
Friday, July 19 — North and South Carolina Day
Saturday, July 20 — Lincoln-Illinois Day (Governor's Day) All Illinois cities
Sunday, July 21 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing.
Monday, July 22 — Virginia and West Virginia Day
Tuesday, July 23 — Booker T. Washington-Tuskegee (Alabama Day)
Wednesday, July 24 — Veterans' Day (All veterans' organizations & War Mothers)
Thursday, July 25 — Professional Men and Women's Day (professional & business clubs)
Friday, July 26 — Missouri Day (St. Louis)
Saturday, July 27 — Public School Children's Day
Sunday, July 28 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, July 29 — Indiana Day (All Indiana cities)
Tuesday, July 30 — Wisconsin Day (Milwaukee)
Wednesday, July 31 — Ohio Day (Wilberforce)
Thursday, August 1 — Oklahoma Day
Friday, August 2 — Pennsylvania Day—CCC Day
Saturday, August 3 — Michigan Day (Detroit)
Sunday, August 4 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, August 5 — Kansas Day
Tuesday, August 6 — American Woodmen Day
Wednesday, August 7 — Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Day
Thursday, August 8 — (Reserved)
Friday, August 9 — (Reserved)
Saturday, August 10 — Boy and Girl Scouts Day
Sunday, August 11 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, August 12 — Knights of Pythias Day (all branches)
Tuesday, August 13 — African-Pan American Day and A.U.K. and D. & A.
Wednesday, August 14 — Artists' Day
Thursday, August 15 — Fisk University Day
Friday, August 16 — Ohio Day
Saturday, August 17 — Miss Bronze America Day
Sunday, August 18 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, August 19 — Mason's Day (all branches)
Tuesday, August 20 — Royal Circle of Friends Day (Convention)
Wednesday, August 21 — Old Settlers' Day and Pointe De Sable Day
Thursday, August 22 — Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. Day
Friday, August 23 — Urban League and N.A.A.C.P. Day
Saturday, August 24 — Postal Alliance Day (all post offices)
Sunday, August 25 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, August 26 — Arkansas Day
Tuesday, August 27 — Texas-Oklahoma Day (4-H clubs)
Wednesday, August 28 — Aviation Day
Thursday, August 29 — Chicago Clubs' Day (all civic and social clubs)
Friday, August 30 — Military Day
Saturday, August 31 — Elks' Day and Technical Day (Technicians)
Sunday, September 1 — Churches Day—Big choruses and gospel singing. 
Monday, September 2 — Labor Day—End of Fair

At the central entrance to the Exposition is the Court of Dioramas, spectacularly beautiful, historically important.

Thirty-three dioramas in all illustrate the Negro's large and valuable contributions to the progress of America and the world. In the center of the court is a replica of the Lincoln Memorial, which, like the dioramas, was produced by negroes under the personal direction of Erik Lindgren, Illinois State Director of Exhibits.

These dioramas are acclaimed by all who have seen them as the finest examples of this branch of the fine arts ever created.
The Court of Dioramas

Erik Lindgren
State Director of Exhibits
Mr. Lindgren, born in Stockholm, Sweden, and educated at a Swedish University, held commissions in the Swedish and Finnish Armies and saw service in the war between Finland and Russia. A champion athlete and an expert in skiing, he served as a ski instructor in the service of both the aforementioned armies.

Twenty-five years ago, while visiting his father on the German-Swiss border, he became interested in the art of creating dioramas and, under the tutelage of a famous Swiss builder, he was taught a method of erection of the diorama which permitted even an unskilled mechanic to produce them. After graduation from the Art Institute in Chicago, Mr. Lindgren became engaged in the production of dioramas. Over the past fifteen years, examples of his art have been exhibited throughout America and many foreign countries. He constructed the dioramas for the Century of Progress. It can be stated without reservation that he is the world's outstanding authority and designer of diorama art.

1. City of Kharnak, Building Temple.
The temple at Kharnak—a monument to the genius of forgotten artisans and builders who created the glory that once was Africa.
2. Building the Sphinx.
The mystery of time and change and man's inhumanity to man must have puzzled the dark, thoughtful men who shaped the Sphinx.
3. Ethiopians Using First Wheel.
That many uses of the wheel were known to the early Ethiopians—if not, indeed, discovered by them—is indicated by their novel means of drawing irrigation water.
4. Africans Smelting.
Glimpses of the dim age in which Africa gave the world its first smelted iron still shine in tribal scenes like this one.
5. Slave Trade in Africa.
The saga of the American Negro, "the black thread which has run through our destiny," begins with a transaction between Arabs and privateers on a sandy African beach.
6. First Slaves in Virginia.
"A Dutchman of Warre who sold us twenty Negars," came to the colonial Virginia coast in 1619.
7. Pietro Alonzo, Pilot of San Maria.
Pietro Alonzo, il Negro, captain of the "Nina." It was not always as a slave that the black man played his role in the American epic. 
8. Estevanico in Arizona, 1532.
In the "Journal of Cabeva de Vaca" Estevanico is credited with the discovery of the Zuni Indians and New Mexico, 1532.
9. Crispus Attucks, First Martyrs.
"This was the declaration of war. . . . The English-speaking world will never forget the noble daring, the excusable rashness of (Crispus) Attucks in the holy cause of liberty." —John Adams.
10. Large Cotton Plantation—Slavery Period. 
Despite a bitter Civil War and the consequent blow to the plantation economy of the South, King Cotton keeps his throne—as millions of Negroes know.
11. Matt Henson at the North Pole.
With Peary in 1909 went Matt Henson, Negro, in the search for the North Pole.
12. Drawing Water for Irrigation.
In some cases, the green hills of Africa are green because of irrigation. The device often used for truck gardening was the calabash.
13. The 10th Cavalry at San Juan Hill (1898).
One feature of the Negro's Americanization is his ready participation in the wars of his country. The assault on San Juan Hill, 1898, is an instance.
14. Georgia Slaves Defending Plantation Against British Soldiers (1779).
"There was skirmishing on Mr. McGillivray's plantation between Negroes and rebels, and the latter were driven into the woods.—Royal Georgia Gazette, November 18, 1779.
15. Isaac Murphy, King of Jockeys.
Almost gone from the American scene are the colorful, jewel-studded Negro jockeys of the past generation. But, Isaac Murphy, most brilliant of them all, is no sundown name.
16. World War I.
First American Negroes decorated for bravery in France during the World War.
17. Boy Scouts.
"I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother."
18. Gold Rush.
The epic movement of Americans to the West in the middle of the last century included many Negroes.
19. Modern Building; Port Au Prince.
Haitian progress—as exemplified by the Agricultural College—is followed with warm interest by their cousins in the U. S.
20. Beginning of Negro Business.
Negro business, unashamed of its humble beginnings, points with pride to steady, determined growth and improvement.
21. Construction of the First White House.
So pleased was Thomas Jefferson with the abilities of Benjamin Banneker that he secured for him a place on the Commission that surveyed and laid out the city of Washington, D.C.
22. Reconstruction.
Included among the "hard trials" of the familiar Spiritual, is the housing problem. Long accustomed to taking over abandoned white dwellings, the Negro finds not even these available. 
23. In the House of the Master.
Slavery destroyed household gods, severed the bonds of home, and forced the uprooted peoples of Africa to forget memories of their homeland.
24. Broken Bonds.
The throngs of Negro families who followed Sherman's advancing army made a tragic picture— a picture of the disorganization which came as a result of the dissolution of the plantation system.
25. In the House of the Mother.
A refuge from a hostile world was provided in the family circle of kinsmen and orphans under the guardianship of mother or grandmother.
26. In the House of the Father.
Upon the pioneer efforts of the freedmen who first accepted the challenge of manhood responsibilities were built the family, the church, the school, and industry.
27. In the City of Destruction.
To man the mills and factories of northern industry, a million black folk fled from feudal America to modern civilization. In the city, many simple folkways of the South were lost.
28. In the City of Rebirth.
For black men and women, the travail of civilization is not ended. Color caste is dissolving. Black workers are helping to build a new America.
29. Baptism of the Ethiopians.
30. Esquire Cartoon.
By the famous race cartoonist Simms Campbell.
31. Philip and the Ethiopians.
32. The Warm Springs Negro School.
The old Warm Springs, Georgia, Negro School.
33. New Negro School.
The new Eleanor Roosevelt School, in Warm Springs, Georgia, built in 1936. This is the last school to be built through the aid of the Julius Rosenwald Fund.

The Illinois State booth continues the exhibit of dioramas with a special study of Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipator. Outstanding in their attention to minute detail is the Berry-Lincoln Store and the Rutledge Tavern.

The Berry-Lincoln Store
The Berry-Lincoln Store, in miniature, is an exact copy of the store in New Salem, Illinois. The details in the store have been faithfully copied from the originals. A staff of artists spent two days studying the interior, making sketches, notes, and taking photographs of the building.
The Berry-Lincoln Store, New Salem, Illinois

All bottles, hay forks, plows, and barrels were constructed in scale with the building and are correct in every detail. This particular model should be of great interest to students of the great Abraham Lincoln, as it the American people because this building shows the surroundings in which he worked as a young man.
The Interior of the Lincoln-Berry Store, New Salem, Illinois.

The Ann Rutledge Tavern
Of all the buildings in New Salem, the Ann Rutledge Tavern has perhaps the most sentimental value to the American people because this building was the home of Ann Rutledge. Lincoln occupied the room upstairs when he first became a citizen of the village of New Salem, Illinois. The model is an exact replica of the tavern as it stands in Illinois' New Salem today.
The Ann Rutledge Tavern, New Salem, Illinois.

Surrounding the Court was a series of twenty murals by the talented black American artist William Edouard Scott (1884-1964), a graduate of the School of the Art Institute. 
Artist William Edouard Scott At Work (1884-1964)

Scott was one of the first to depict the “New Negro” in an uplifting way by breaking away from the subjugating images of the past. The subjects of his murals ranged from Chicago’s first permanent settler in 1790 — Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable — farming and trading with the local Indians, to Marian Anderson singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  
Tanner Hall Art Galleries at the American Negro Exposition, 1940.

In Tanner Hall, there are hung ten paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner, the supreme artist of the Negro people—ten, which means there are more "Tanners" here than have ever been gathered together in one place, more than may ever again be seen at one-time side by side.

In the entire show are three hundred separate items selected from an original entry greater than five hundred. The jury was headed by Donald Cayton Rich of the Chicago Art Institute. 

Awards given for the finest entries were medal designs struck by Hale Woodruff, himself one of the best of modern painters and designers. The exhibit falls into seven natural groups listed below. Alonzo J. Aden, of Howard University, was curator.
"The Thankful Poor," Henry Ossawa Tanner, shown at the American Negro Exposition.

1. Memorial Exhibit. 
Paintings by Henry O. Tanner.
2. Early Painters.
Paintings by E. M. Bannister and William Duncanson.
3. Memorial Exhibits.
Malvin Gray Johnson, Albert A. Smith.
4. Haimon Foundation Collection of Contemporary Negro Artists.
5. Exposition Show.
Selection of contemporary Negro Art (Eastern and Western jury selections).
6. Exhibition of African Art.
From Schomburg Collection, N. Y.; Field Museum Loan Collection, Chicago; and Emory Ross Photographic Collection, N. Y.
7. Children's and School Art.
Works of New York Artists in New York Exhibit.
Candy manufacturer Charles "Carl" Frederick Gunther built the third Coliseum at 1513 South Wabash Avenue in 1899. He purchased the Richmond, Virginia, Libby Prison, constructed as a warehouse which became a Confederate prison during the Civil War. Gunther had it dismantled, shipped to Chicago on 132 railroad cars, and rebuilt it as the Libby Prison War Museum (1889-1897), which displayed memorabilia from the Civil War. After about a decade, the old prison was torn down, except for the castellated wall (seen here) that became part of the new Chicago Coliseum behind it.

The south hall of the Coliseum contained Tanner Hall, displaying 300 paintings and sculptures and billed as “the greatest collection of Negro art ever assembled.” 

It was named in honor of artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), regarded as the preeminent Negro artist of his time and the first to receive international acclaim. Ten of his paintings were displayed. 
Looking north in the Hall of Flags. The columns in the center surround the Court of Dioramas and a replica of Illinois' Lincoln Monument.

Also on display in the Hall, this limestone sculpture titled “Negro Mother and Child” was on display by Elizabeth Catlett, an African-American and Mexican artist. Completed as her master's degree thesis, the artwork won first place at the Exposition.
“Negro Mother and Child” first-place winner at the American Negro Exposition.

The Hall of Fame honored thirty-one outstanding Negroes and their contributions to art, entertainment, literature, industry, and science. Most were depicted in portraits by Persian artist Salvatore Salla. 

Among those celebrated were the agronomist George Washington Carver who discovered 300 industrial uses for the peanut; W.E.B. DuBois, the first black person to get a doctoral degree at Harvard University; the arctic explorer Matthew Henson; women’s leader Mary McLeod Bethune; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who performed the first successful open-heart surgery; contralto Marian Anderson lauded by acclaimed conductor Arturo Toscanini as “the voice of the century”; labor leader A. Phillip Randolph; Richard Wright, whose novel “Native Son” was the first work of a black author selected by the Book of the Month Club; W.C. Handy, the father of the blues; architect Paul R. Williams at the time, the only Negro member of the American Institute of Architects; and boxing champion Joe Louis.

Live entertainment could be enjoyed in the intimate cabaret above Tanner Hall and in the theater in the north hall, which sat 4,000 people. Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes co-wrote “Jubilee: Cavalcade of the Negro” a musical commissioned for the Exposition. The strained finances forced the exposition’s management to cancel acts that would have drawn large negro audiences like Hughes and Bontemps’ couldn’t be staged. 

Other productions included “Tropics After Dark” and a swing version of “Chimes of Normandy,” a popular French opera. Performers included Duke Ellington, baritone Paul Robeson, and dozens of dancers and choruses. Motion pictures, ranging from entertaining to educational, were screened regularly and included “The Negro in Education” produced by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The exposition’s managers were handicapped by the trade unions. The carpenters’ union charged $35,000 ($682,500 today) for installation after most of the exhibits were already built. The musicians union demanded $1,600 ($31,200 today) a week for a band that would have cost $600 a week.

Literature was another focus, and a special book, entitled Cavalcade of the American Negro, was produced by the Illinois Writers’ Project. Poet Margaret Walker, who became a prominent member of Chicago’s Black Renaissance, contributed a poem which began:

Come now, my brothers and citizens of America
and hear the strange singing of me, your brother,
and see the strange dancing of me, your daughter,
and know that I am you and you are me
and the two are as one in danger and in peace,
in plenty and in poverty,
in freedom forever,
in power, and glory and triumph.
I ask you, America,
is this not signing witness in your soul?
Who are you to deny me the right
to cast my vote in the streets of America
in the Senate halls of America?
Who are you to deny the right to speak?
I who am myself also America.
I who cleared your forests
and laid your thoroughfares.
Who are you to be presumptuous
to tell me where to ride,
and where to stand,
and where to sit?
Who are you to lynch the flesh of your flesh?
Who are you to say who shall live
and who shall die?
Who are you to tell me where to eat
and where to sleep?
Who are you, America but Me?

Every day of the Exposition was designated for a specific state, organization, or theme. Sundays were given over to various Christian denominations, from Baptist to Catholic.  

On August 21, the Pointe de Sable Memorial Society gave a program honoring Chicago’s first permanent settler. Originally made for the 1933-1934 World’s Fair, a replica of his cabin was reconstructed. 
A farmer and trader named Guarie had built this trading cabin and farmed the land on the west side of the Guarie River [north branch of the Chicago River] as early as 1778. It's not documented when Guarie moved. Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable established “Eschikagou  , a settlement in 1790. He lived in the Guarie cabin (unsure if Guarie purchased it or vacated the cabin), farmed the land, raised pigs and chickens, grew corn and vegetables, and traded with local Indians.

The program opened with the signing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” noted as the “Negro National Anthem,” and featured State Representative Charles Jenkins as the main speaker. (Jenkins had introduced the bill resulting in the $75,000 state appropriation for the Exposition). 

The Chicago Defender, Chicago’s leading Black newspaper, sponsored a beauty contest to select Miss Bronze America. The winner, nineteen-year-old Miriam Ali, used her $300 prize to pay for her Illinois State Normal University tuition. 

The Exposition closed on September 2, 1940, with an elaborate program featuring the Democratic nominee for Vice President, Henry A. Wallace, as the keynote speaker (he promised a non-political speech and was elected Vice President two months later). Entertainment included the J. Wesley Jones chorus of 1,000 and selections by Paul Robeson. Organizers had hoped two million people would visit the Exposition, but It's been estimated that there were about 250,000 paid visitors.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. A long read and eye-opening. Thank you for shining a light on this little known subject.


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