FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 4, 2007
Contact: Jennifer M. Guild, Senior Officer for Public Relations and Marketing
Tel: (804) 342-9665 | Email:
Last Weeks to View Jamestown Negro Exhibit of 1907 at the VHS
Looking Back: The Jamestown Negro Exhibit of 1907 closes September 16, 2007
Richmond, VA – When planning began in 1902 for the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, the goal of the Jamestown Exposition Company was to show the nation's might to the world. Nowhere in the preparations of the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in the Hampton Roads area were there any plans for African American representation. It wasn't until prominent African American leaders spearheaded a project to be part of the celebratory exposition that white commission members agreed to allow blacks to be involved, but they had to do everything themselves.
Giles B. Jackson, an African American native of Goochland County who was once a manservant to Robert E. Lee, established the Negro Development and Exposition Company to make arrangements for black participation in the events of 1907. The organization, complying with what white commission members had decided for the event, began planning to erect a structure that was to be built, run, and visited by African Americans.
The significance of this exposition is explored 100 years later in the Virginia Historical Society's Looking Back: The Jamestown Negro Exhibit of 1907. This exhibition, open for only a few short months, just like the 300th anniversary exhibit, is on display at the VHS until September 16, 2007.
"Jackson's goal was to exemplify the best of the African American race," said Lauranett Lee, Curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society. "Blacks wanted to present themselves as citizens who had fully assimilated into American culture. They wanted to stay away from the primitive stereotypes like the happy darkie or subservient buffoon."
The tercentennial exposition encompassed more than 500 acres in Norfolk, Va. Like many international fairs at the time, exhibitors set up displays. Construction paid for by the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Commission allowed for each state to have a building to represent its white citizens. African Americans also hoped to have separate buildings for blacks from each state, but due to a lack of funding, created the Negro Building, a two-story space to house all exhibits.
When the exposition opened on April 30, 1907, the Negro Building, like more than 100 others, was not complete. It was not until nearly two months later that the only building that African American visitors could enter was finished. More than 9,100 exhibitors from all over the country had displays of needlework, agriculture, artwork, patents, books, and newspapers, all created by African Americans.
"It was a huge accomplishment to get the Negro Building done considering the racial climate at the time," Lee said. "Blacks who pushed for the building faced resistance from the commission. And it was hard to get workers and supplies as quickly as whites, and for the money the Negro Development and Exposition Company had been awarded."
Negro Building displays were reviewed by African American judges. With 162 awards, the Negro Building exhibitors won more medals than any other building on the grounds. But, because winners had to pay to receive their medals from the commission, very few African Americans could afford to purchase their prize, and few medals exist today from that event.
Through December 1, 1907, over 3 million guests paid the 50 cents to browse through the buildings at the exposition. 750,000 people went to the Negro Building, with white men making up the largest percent of visitors. For whites, it was a way of learning about African American history, which was not taught in schools. Many white people knew very little about blacks outside of working with them on farms or as domestic servants. For black visitors, the Negro Building and the displays inside gave them an immense sense of pride, signifying that they could accomplish the same things as whites, given the opportunity. Negro Building organizers supported relocating the displays to Richmond as a permanent national museum, but their lobbying efforts were unsuccessful.
Photographs, artifacts, and music from the Negro Building tell the story of the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907. Looking Back: The Jamestown Negro Exhibit of 1907 explores a fleeting moment seized by African Americans to represent themselves, in their own words and images, to a national and international audience.
This exhibition captures the period in time when blacks took the reins and said 'This is how we want to be perceived,'" Lee said. "Our society could be very different today had African Americans not pushed and worked so hard to have representation at the Jamestown exposition. VHS visitors who tour this exhibit will see how far we have come as a society in 100 years."
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit