By Helen A. Tucker
Charities and the Commons 18 (Sept. 21, 1907)
No one could look at the product of Negro brain and hand in the Negro Building at the Jamestown Exposition without realizing what a remarkable showing has been made after forty year’s effort, not only indicative of accomplishment, but full of promise. At one entrance to the Negro Building, by the side of the path, is a small, windowless log cabin, the slave home of 1860; on the other a pleasant wooden cottage, typical of many which are sheltering Negro families today. In Virginia alone, 47,000 homes are owned by Negroes.
The Negro Building is an attractive, well-proportioned, two-story structure, on classic lines, admirably adapted by its many windows to its purpose. It was designed by a young Negro architect of Washington, D. C., W. Sidney Pittman, a graduate of Tuskegee and Drexel Institutes, who has also designed some of the Tuskegee buildings. The contract for the building, together with the incidental contracts, were taken by Negro contractors. Colored mechanics and laborers did the actual work of construction. Even the timber was supplied by a Negro firm. All financial and business matters, including the collection and setting up of the exhibits, were in the hands of an executive committee consisting of three Negroes appointed by the United States Government to supervise the expenditure of the $100,000 congressional appropriation. The building, with the decorations and electric lights, cost about $50,000, and on the day of formal opening the chairman of the committee, Thos. J Calloway, was able to announce that with all expenses met and every debt paid they still had $30,000 left. This speaks well for Negro business ability.
In the early days of planning for the Negro exhibit, there was a feeling among some colored people that to have an exclusively Negro building at the exposition would be of “Jim Crowism,” but the more thoughtful and discerning realized the truth that the credit for anything they might show in the general exhibits would be largely lost to them. As one of the Negro day speakers said, it would have been necessary to have some- one standing by each article to swear it was made by a Negro and ten more to swear they would believe the witness on oath.
Inside the Negro Building the contents of the building might be classified under the following heads: educational, agricultural, business enterprises, inventions, literary and artistic exhibits. In all, about 3,000 exhibitors are represented. As might be expected, since it is by education that the foundation for all further progress must be laid, a large number of schools, some one hundred and twenty-five, conducted by and for the race, have a prominent place.
These, including both public and private institutions, represent many states and kinds of training – one may turn from the work of a kindergarten in Topeka, Kansas, to that of a normal school in Lexington, Kentucky. From the nature of their work, the industrial schools can make the most striking showing, and there is plenty of evidence in the fine needlework done by the girls, and in the productions of embryo blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carpenters, that the training of the hand is not being neglected.
Hampton Institute has a particularly extensive, interesting and artistically arranged exhibit, illustrating what is done in the various departments of this great school, which is really an industrial village. Here, the furniture made by the students, the rugs woven by them, the handsome, substantial wagon, the well-made harness; the neat, attractive brick fireplace, are their own demonstrations of the value of industrial training and the power to do something well – and they speak also of the trained mind, lacking which such accurate and painstaking work would be impossible.
As a part of the exhibit of Fisk University, the jubilee singers give free concerts, morning and
afternoon, following a demonstration by Fisk students designed to set forth the value of college education. This demonstration usually takes the form of some experiment in chemistry, physics or other science, conducted as it would be by a teacher in the classroom. An interesting part of this exhibit is a picture, painted in London in 1874, of the original jubilee singers who in seven years, having in the meantime sung in all the northern states and in many cities of Europe, brought back the $150,000 which helped make the present Fisk possible.
Howard University has a series of sociological charts prepared by the students under the direction of Prof. Kelly Miller which interpret census figures so as to bring out the facts in regard to the progress of the Negro race. These charts are explained by a student from the university, and should be of especial value and interest to Negro visitors. They deal with such subjects as: Negro population by states, Negro population by decades, counties in which Negroes are in a majority, Decline of Negro illiteracy, Number of Negro children attending school in each state.
Progress in agriculture is shown by samples of farm products, soil culture and improved machinery, with tables of statistics relative to the value and extent of Negro landowning. Negro farmers produce two-thirds of the cotton raised in the United States and one-fifth of the sweet potatoes.
Twenty thousand Negroes own and operate their own farms, aggregating twelve million acres. Among the samples of crops exhibited are corn, oats, cotton, large and perfect specimens of many kinds of vegetables and preserved fruit.
The business enterprises upon which Negroes have entered are of necessity represented largely by photographs. There are photographs of prosperous-looking stores, office buildings, banks and of many houses built by Negro realty companies.
A study of these indicates that Negroes are going into business, not only in the South where they have large numbers of their own people to supply,but in northern cities as well. The well-fitted shop of an electrician and locksmith in Chicago is said to be the only store of its kind in the United States controlled and operated by Negroes. A picture of an up-to-date department store, also in Chicago, hangs side by side with one in Baltimore. An enterprising shoemaker has set up his shop in the building and is busy making and repairing shoes. Another interesting corner is that filled by the exhibit of a shoe polish company in New York City, where it occupies a five-story building and does an annual business of over $75,000. Capable demonstrators are ready to prove this polish the best made. Near one entrance is a model bank, open for business during banking hours. It is a branch of the bank in Richmond, Virginia, controlled by the United Order of True Reformers.
This, established in 1889, was the first bank in America chartered and managed by Negroes.
The large number of inventions, representing some five hundred of the five thousand patents said to have been issued to members of the colored race, their variety, and the real mechanical ability of which they are proof, give surprising evidence of the progress Negroes are making along this line. A case of interesting models was loaned by the Patent Department in Washington. Among some of the recent inventions is an automatic electric switch attachment for street cars, designed to be operated from the car by the motorman, an improved truck already in use in Chicago, a combined cotton planter and fertilizer, adjustable bed springs by which an invalid’s bed may serve as a reclining chair, and an extension step ladder.
The literary exhibit consists of books written by Negroes, representing about eight hundred authors, and the 337 newspapers which they publish.
Nearby is a display of music, both vocal and instrumental. One is interested to discover we are indebted for so many of the recent popular songs to Negro composers. The historic tableaux, a series of fourteen groups portraying different phases in the development of Negro life in America from 1619 to 1907, attract much attention. These were designed, made and set in place by Miss Meta Vaux Warrick, a young sculptor who has studied in Philadelphia and more recently in Paris. Beginning with the landing of twenty slaves at Jamestown they present such contrasting scenes as these: An escaping slave, a Negro defending his master’s home during the war, Negro soldiers, a Negro bank, the slaves learning to work in the cotton fields, an independent Negro farmer, the organization of the first Negro church in 1816, a modern Sunday scene, the first school house (a rough log cabin), and a Negro college commencement.
August 3 was Negro day at the exposition. A review of the Hampton Institute battalion by St. George Tucker, president of the exposition company, Booker T. Washington and Major Moton, commandant at Hampton, was followed by exercises at the Negro Building where Mr. Washington delivered an address to a large audience of his own people. He brought out the thought that the Negro race is at present passing through a formative period in its development and while in no sense minimizing the difficulties and drawbacks in the way of progress, he dwelt at length on the opportunities open, urged them to take advantage of these and throughout his speech kept dominant the practical, inspiring note so haracteristic of him.
The estimated attendance on Negro day was 10,000 Negroes and about 1,000 whites, very few of whom showed any interest in the exercises at the Negro Building. At police headquarters on the grounds, not one case of drunkenness was reported and not one of disorderly conduct during the day: a record of which the Negroes may well be proud. Nor does this stand alone. Last fall at the Georgia State Fair, the first of its kind held there, with an attendance of over 40,000, there was not one arrest for intoxication. The exhibit at the Jamestown exposition which does the most credit to the Negro race is not the fine building, nor yet the evidences of skill and industry so attractively arranged, but the interested and orderly gathering of people on Negro day, and the alert, courteous, intelligent men and women employed in various capacities throughout the building.