For as long as our country can remember, African Americans have been mistreated continuously. In 1939, the World’s Fair broke their promises of treating African Americans fairly and recognizing their culture. There were protests following the fair’s grand opening to object the discrimination to African Americans. After the protests, there were 700 African Americans hired and there was some demonstration of their culture in the exhibits. The fair organizers denied that there was any mistreatment towards the African American people. However, there were only a small number of African Americans hired to work for the fair, mostly as entertainers. Walter L. Roberts had a more meaningful role as an employee on the architectural staff of the fair. But, there was not as much representation as they were promised. It was not until 1940 that there was an African American week established from July 23rd to the 28th.
The goal of this week was to show African Americans’ contribution to the development of the United States. During this week, there were festivals, concerts, dance recitals, guest speakers, religious ceremonies, and programs for the children. There were a number of influential people that spoke and performed during the week. W.E.B. DuBois, Juanita Hall, George Washington Carver, and Marian Anderson are just a few examples of who was a part of the events. All of these people made great contributions to American history and the sharing of their culture during African American week. There were exhibits of rare African American books and a Hall of Fame list to honor accomplished African Americans. Activists like Mary McLeod Bethune, gave speeches on the “betterment” of African Americans throughout the country.
Reading these collections about the treatment of African Americans during the Fair unfortunately did not surprise me. African Americans had already had a huge impact on the United States and its culture during the Fair, so it was even more heartbreaking that they were initially excluded. However, learning about this time period of the fair is super important to understand its culture and the history of it. Understanding the events that took place during African American week can give researchers a better understanding of the World’s Fair and the details of what was happening at it.
After reading all of the information, it left me wondering how these exhibits and performances affected white people’s opinions on African American culture during this time period. Since white people never had the desire to learn about the people they were oppressing, I am curious to find out whether this allowed more people to be educated on other cultures. I also am curious whether different races were segregated at the World’s Fair. Since this fair occurred before desegregation, I wonder if different races were even allowed to learn about one another’s culture.
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