1940 Chicago
Promotional poster by Robert Pious
BIE-classUnrecognized exposition
NameAmerican Negro Exposition
Building(s)Chicago Coliseum
Organizations27 [1]
CountryUnited States
Venue1513 South Wabash Avenue, South Loop
OpeningJuly 4, 1940 (1940-07-04)
ClosureSeptember 2, 1940 (1940-09-02)
Specialized expositions

The American Negro Exposition, also known as the Black World's Fair and the Diamond Jubilee Exposition, was a world's fair held in Chicago from July until September in 1940, to celebrate the 75th anniversary (also known as a diamond jubilee) of the end of slavery in the United States at the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865.[1]


As a result of the discrimination towards African Americans at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, James Washington, a real estate developer, conceived of the American Negro Exposition.[2]

On July 4, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from his Hyde Park home, pressed a button to turn on the lights, officially opening the American Negro Exposition. The main speakers on the opening day were Chicago mayor Edward Joseph Kelly as well as Postmaster General James A. Farley.[3] The exposition was held at the Chicago Coliseum, with 120 exhibits on display. The exposition was organized by James W. Washington, as president, and was funded through two $75,000 ($1.37 million in 2020) grants from Congress and the Illinois General Assembly.[4][2] Truman Gibson, a member of Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet", served as executive director for the fair.


Entrance was 25 cents and the organizers expected 2 million people to attend.[2] The art exhibit comprised 300 paintings and drawings and was called by The New York Times as "the largest showing of the work of Negro artists ever assembled."[4]

The exposition is dominated by a replica of the Lincoln Tomb and Monument in Springfield, Ill. Exhibits include representation from most of the Federal departments and agencies, the city, the Board of Education and the Republic of Liberia. One section features the work of Negro authors...Almost every day until closing time on Labor Day, Sept. 2, has been set aside to honor some State, organization, or Negro.

Additionally, there was a Hall of Fame honoring notable African Americans.[1] Artist William Edouard Scott created a series of 24 murals for the event, which took him three months to complete.[5][6][7] Black Mexican artist Elizabeth Catlett's master thesis, the limestone sculpture "Negro Mother and Child" won first place in the exposition.[8]

Margaret Walker entered a literary competition with the following verses:[2]

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?

Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes co-wrote a musical titled Jubilee: Cavalcade of the Negro Theater specifically for the exposition.[9] Bontemps, the poet Fenton Johnson, and several others working under the auspices of the Illinois Writers' Project, produced a commemorative 96-page African-American history book called Cavalcade of the American Negro.[10]

Other musical segments were a performance by Duke Ellington and his orchestra, as well as a swing performance of The Chimes of Normandy.[11]





The exhibit had 33 five-feet wide dioramas held in the "Court of Dioramas" hall, they were made from wood, plaster and masonite, showcasing African American contributions and events of historical significance, ranging from ancient Egypt through World War I.[12] Commercial artist Charles C. Dawson directed the creation of the dioramas.[1] The temporary exhibit was only on display for the roughly two months the exhibition ran and inspired local teachers in improving teaching African American history.[13]

A list of the dioramas in the names at the time of showing, included:[14]

  1. City of Kharnak, Building Temple.
  2. Building the Sphynix
  3. Ethiopians Discovering the First Wheel
  4. Africans Smelting
  5. Slave Trade in Africa
  6. First Slaves in Virginia
  7. Pietro Alonzo, Pilot of the Santa Maria
  8. Estevanico in Arizona, 1532
  9. Crispus Attucks, First Martyrs
  10. Large Cotton Plantation, Slavery Period
  11. Matt Henson at the North Pole
  12. Drawing Water for Irrigation
  13. The 10th Cavalry at San Juan Hill (1898)
  14. Georgia Slaves Defending Plantation Against British Soldiers (1779). This event was related to Lachlan McGillivray.
  15. Isaac Murphy, King of Jockeys
  16. World War: I
  17. Boy Scouts
  18. Gold Rush
  19. Modern Building; Port Au Prince
  20. Beginning of Negro Business
  21. Construction of the First White House. This was related to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker.
  22. Reconstruction
  23. In the House of the Master
  24. Broken Bonds
  25. In the House of the Mother
  26. In the House of the Father
  27. In the City of Destruction
  28. In the City of Rebirth
  29. Baptism of Ethiopians
  30. Esquire Cartoon. This was related to E. Simms Campbell.
  31. Philip and the Ethiopians
  32. The Warm Springs Negro School
  33. New Negro School

Of the original 33 dioramas, 13 of them were lost and Tuskegee University, through Dawson, an alumni who was started teaching at the institution, acquired the remaining 20 dioramas from the State of Illinois.[13] They were placed at the University's old George Washington Carver Museum, then moved to the main library. Due to their state of disrepair, they had arrived at Tuskegee at "60% destroyed",[13] they were stored away from public view for decades.[12]

Tuskegee's Legacy Museum set up a new exhibit, "20 Dioramas: Brightly-Lit Windows, Magically Different", using the twenty dioramas to "demonstrate the rich past of African-Americans".[15] The museum curator, Dr. Jontyle Robinson, used the conservation work to "improve diversity in the field of conservation", since "[o]nly 1 to 2% of conservators are African American."[13][15] Restoring a single diorama costs between $25,000 to $30,000 in 2018.[15]

External video
video icon You may view the CBS Sunday Morning story on YouTube

CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver did a story on the dioramas, with the intention of bringing awareness and hope that the segment would help in unearthing the lost 13.[1]

List of Restored Dioramas
Year of


Title Restored by Notes
2018 "Benjamin Banneker and the Surveying of Washington, D.C." Texas Southern University [15]
"The Arrival of the Slaves at Jamestown, Virginia"
2019 "Crispus Attucks, The First American Martyr, 1770" University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum [12]
"Negro Businesses" Fisk University
"Matthew Henson, Discovery of the North Pole" Smithsonian Institution
2020 "Harlem Hellfighters in World War I" University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum [13]


In 2015, the African American Cultural Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago curated an exhibition of the Exposition "showcas[ing]...objects, images and texts from the landmark...Exposition."[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Art of history: Preserving African American dioramas". CBS News. 2020-08-30. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  2. ^ a b c d Grossman, Ron (2020-06-12). "Flashback: American Negro Exposition set out to show the successes of black America — but the white establishment had its own agenda". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-07-05. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  3. ^ Congress, United States (1940). "Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress".
  4. ^ a b "Rooosevelt OpensNegro World Fair". New York Times. 1940-07-05. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  5. ^ Laudicina, S. (2015-06-30). "William Edouard Scott papers". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  6. ^ Healy, Paul (June 23, 1940). "Negro Exhibit Coming to Life in Oil, Colors". Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 3.
  7. ^ "William E. Scott". Illinois Historical Art Project. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  8. ^ Montoya, Yvette (2019-10-04). "Why We're Honoring Black Mexican Artist and Activist Elizabeth Catlett This Hispanic Heritage Month". HipLatina. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  9. ^ Abramowitz, Sophie. ""Boundaries Bind Unbinding:" Langston Hughes' Musical-Archival Practice". Black Sound & the Archive Working Group. Yale University. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  10. ^ Writers' Program (U.S.) (1942). Catalogue, WPA Writers' Program publications, the American guide series, the American life series. September 1941. Washington: U. S. Govt. print. off.
  11. ^ Wilson, Mabel O. (2012). Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums. University of California Press. pp. 227–228. ISBN 9780520268425. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30.
  12. ^ a b c "Legacy Museum places three recently conserved dioramas on public display". Tuskegee University. 2019-04-07. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  13. ^ a b c d e Eichmann, Mark (2020-02-11). "HBCU students restore 1940s African American art in Delaware". WHYY-FM. Archived from the original on 2020-06-11. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  14. ^ "American Negro Exposition 1863-1940, July 4 to Sept. 2, 1940, Chicago, IL" (PDF). Living History of Illinois. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-03-03. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  15. ^ a b c d Dabney, Brittney (2018-08-02). "Restored dioramas take center stage in new Legacy Museum exhibit". Tuskegee University. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  16. ^ Flood, Brian (2015-01-29). "Exhibit recalls 1940 American Negro Exposition". University of Illinois at Chicago. Archived from the original on 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.


1.^ Not including the 230 "Negro Newspapers".