The 1870s to the start of World War I, the period when African American educator Booker T. Washington was gaining prominence, was also a difficult time for African Americans. The vote proved elusive and civil rights began to vanish through court action. Lynching, racial violence, and slavery's twin children peonage and sharecropping arose as deadly quagmires on the path to full citizenship. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, the federal government virtually turned a deaf ear to the voice of the African American populace.

Yet in this era blacks were educated in unprecedented numbers, hundreds received degrees from institutions of higher learning, and a few, like W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson, went on for the doctorate. While only a small percentage of the black population had been literate at the close of the Civil War, by the turn of the twentieth century, the majority of all African Americans were literate. The Library of Congress houses the papers of three presidents of Tuskegee Institute: Booker T. Washington, Robert Russa Moton, and Frederick Douglass Patterson, and other important manuscripts and photographs relating to the establishment, operations, aspirations, and success of historically black colleges and universities.

Also at this time, African American artistic genius in music, painting, sculpture, literature, and dance became more evident to white society at large. Some of the artists of this period, including poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, won international acclaim. This section of the exhibit demonstrates the progress of blacks in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

This period has been called the “nadir” of black history because so many gains earned after the Civil War seemed lost by the time of World War I, and because racial violence and lynching reached an all time high. However, both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL) were founded by blacks and whites during this time. The papers of both of these major civil rights organizations, which are among the holdings in the Library's Manuscript Division, document the unswerving efforts on the part of blacks and their white allies to insure that the nation provide “freedom and justice to all.”

African American Soldiers

African American Soldiers

Although this song was written in 1901, it refers to the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, and to the first African American to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, Sergeant William Carney. During the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment's assault on Fort Wagner, he took the American flag from the fatally wounded standard bearer and, although himself wounded, bore it back to the camp. “I never let the dear old flag touch the ground,” he said.

In 1901, Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson, and J. Rosamond Johnson wrote this song commemorating Carney's heroism. The Johnson brothers also wrote, “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing: National Hymn for the Colored People of America” (1900), a piece that enjoyed immediate popularity and has been dubbed the “Negro National Anthem.”

[John] Rosamond Johnson. “The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground.” Words by Bob Cole and J. W. Johnson. New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1901. Sheet music. Music Division, Library of Congress (6–20)

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African American Soldiers Patrol the West

After the Civil War, African American soldiers who wanted to continue in military service were able to join one of four units, the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantries. These units were generally employed as peacekeepers in the western territories. They protected settlers, safeguarded stagecoach and freight transportation, hunted down outlaws, and participated in campaigns against Native Americans. During the Spanish American War they served both in Cuba and the Philippines.

This photograph is of an unidentified African American soldier stationed at Camp Lincoln.

Camp Lincoln. Cabinet Card photograph. 1897. Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6162 (6–23)

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Spanish-American War—Mobilizing African American Troops

Many black men pursued a military career after the Civil War. During the next major conflict—the Spanish-American War—the 9th and 10th Negro Cavalry, known since 1866 as the Buffalo Soldiers, distinguished themselves in the charge of San Juan Hill in Cuba. Additionally, the 25th Negro Infantry took part in the Battle of El Caney, capturing a Spanish fort. Black troops were among the first sent to the war. They participated in campaigns in Puerto Rico and the Philippines. This image depicts the 24th Infantry, stationed at Fort Douglas, near Salt Lake City, Utah, leaving for Tennessee.

24th Infantry Leaving Salt Lake City, Utah, for Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 24, 1898. Photograph. Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6174/LC-USZ62-119984 (6–18)

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Buffalo Soldiers

The federal government disbanded most of the United States Colored Troops after the Civil War although some continued to patrol in the West. Native Americans called African American troops the “Buffalo Soldiers.” After the Compromise of 1877, when federal troops were withdrawn from the South, only a few African American units remained, including the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry units and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry. Many of these troops were mobilized to fight in the Spanish-American War.

Charles Barthelmess. Buffalo Soldiers, Ft. Keogh, Missouri, 25th Infantry [thirty-eight soldiers wearing buffalo robes], n.d. Cabinet card. Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6161 (6–17)

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Education, Economic and Social Progress

Pulpits Promoting Race Progress—Alexander Crummell

In this sermon African American theologian and intellectual Reverend Alexander Crummell comments on the struggles of African Americans to achieve full citizenship in the United States. He notes that although some whites sought to keep African Americans ignorant, “intellectual aspiration has characterized the race in all the lands of their servitude.” He notes that “for two hundred years there has been a struggle for the alphabet; the primer; the newspaper; and the Bible.” Crummell, born free, had received a B.A. degree at Queen's College in Cambridge, England, in 1853. W. E. B. DuBois wrote an essay lauding Crummell's abilities in Souls of Black Folk (1903).

Rev. Alexander Crummell. Incidents of Hope for the Negro Race in America: A Thanksgiving Sermon, November 26, 1895. Washington, 1895. Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (6–12)

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Booker T. Washington—Up From Slavery

Born a slave in Virginia in 1856, Booker T. Washington managed to get a primary education that allowed his probationary admittance to Hampton Institute. There he proved such an exemplary student, teacher, and speaker that the principal of Hampton recommended Washington to Alabamans who were trying to establish a school for African Americans in their state.

Washington and his students built the school, named Tuskegee Institute after its location, from the ground up. As a result of his work as an educator and public speaker, Washington became influential in business and politics. His vast collection of personal papers, as well as many early records of Tuskegee Institute, are housed in the Manuscript Division.

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Tuskegee Institute—Training Leaders

Tuskegee Institute was founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881 under a charter from the Alabama legislature for the purpose of training teachers in Alabama. Tuskegee's program provided students with both academic and vocational training. The students, under Washington's direction, built their own buildings, produced their own food, and provided for most of their own basic necessities. The Tuskegee faculty utilized each of these activities to teach the students basic skills that they could share with African American communities throughout the South.

Frances Benjamin Johnston was commissioned to photograph Tuskegee in 1902. This photograph shows a history class learning about Native Americans and Captain John Smith in Virginia.

Frances Benjamin Johnston. Tuskegee History Class. Copyprint, 1902. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-64712 (6–3)

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Dunbar to Washington--Defending Artistic Freedom

At the turn of the century, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the most celebrated black writer in America. Although Dunbar's reputation rested on his mastery of dialect verse, he also demonstrated skill as a short story writer, novelist, playwright, and librettist. In 1902 Booker T. Washington commissioned Dunbar to write the school song for Tuskegee Institute. Dunbar wrote his lyrics to the tune of “Fair Harvard.” Washington was not pleased with the “Tuskegee Song.” He objected to Dunbar's emphasis of “the industrial idea,” and the exclusion of biblical references. In this letter to Washington, Dunbar defends his artistic sensibility.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Booker T. Washington, January 23, 1902. Typed letter. Page 2. Booker T. Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–7)
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, Paul Laurence Dunbar House State Memorial

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Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise Speech

Booker T. Washington was already a popular educator and speaker when he gave this speech in Atlanta. The speech catapulted him into national prominence. In the text he challenged both races to adjust to post-emancipation realities. He stated that the races could work together as one hand while socially remaining as separate as the fingers. At the time, Washington's statement, offering reconciliation between the races, pleased most Americans. Increasingly, however, as racial violence and discrimination against blacks escalated at the turn of the century, African American leaders began to believe that the speech represented not a compromise but a capitulation.

Booker T. Washington. “Atlanta Exposition Speech.” September 18, 1895. Transcript draft with autograph corrections. Booker T. Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–5)

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DuBois Congratulates Washington

Although W. E. B. DuBois would later publish his pointed challenge to Booker T. Washington's educational and political philosophy in his celebrated work, Souls of Black Folk (1903), at the time of Washington's Atlanta speech, DuBois wrote this letter to express his congratulations.

In 1905 W. E. B. DuBois and black militant journalist William Monroe Trotter organized a meeting of black intellectuals and professionals in Niagara Falls, Canada, to demand full citizenship rights for African Americans: freedom of speech, an “unfettered and unsubsidized” press, recognition of the principle of human brotherhood, the right of the best training available for all people, and belief in the dignity of labor. The Niagara Movement later allied with an interracial group to form the NAACP.

W. E. B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, September 24, 1895. Autograph letter. Booker T. Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–6)
Courtesy of Mr. David G. Dubois

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Brief Overview Of The Quest

This composite of thirteen scenes pertaining to African American history from 1619 to 1897, though not wholly accurate (for example, Attucks' first name was Crispus, not Christopher), provides a brief historical overview of the African American quest for full citizenship, particularly participation in the Revolutionary War and the political arena. This poster was published for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville in 1897. A picture of the “Negro Exposition Building” is on the lower, right-hand side of the poster.

Afro-American Monument. Color lithograph. Chicago: Goes Lithograph Company, 1897. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-22397 (6–1)

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W.E.B. DuBois and the 1900 Paris Exposition

Included in an award-winning exhibit at the Paris Exposition, this photograph—one of 500—was part of the evidence collected under the direction of W. E. B. DuBois to illustrate the condition, education, and literature of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, only thirty-five years after the abolition of slavery. In his own description of the exhibit, DuBois noted that by 1900 African Americans owned one million acres of land and paid taxes on twelve million dollars worth of property. In addition to photographs about black-owned businesses like this one in Georgia, the exhibit included a number of images related to successful black businesses elsewhere. The related display in the foyer of the Library's John Adams Building features additional photographs of black businesses assembled for the Paris Exposition.

Horse-drawn carriage in front of corner drugstore. Georgia, ca. 1900. Copyprint. W. E. B. DuBois Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-76771 (6–24)

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African Americana at the Library of Congress

Daniel Alexander Payne Murray was a successful African American businessman, librarian, and historian who worked for the Library of Congress for fifty-two years beginning in 1871. In late 1899 the U.S. commissioner general asked the Library of Congress to organize a display of literature about African Americans for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Murray was assigned to the task and worked swiftly to publish a preliminary list. He also worked with W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington on organizing the full “Negro Exposition” in Paris.

Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress. Compiled by Daniel A. P. Murray. Washington: Library of Congress, 1900. Pamphlet. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (6–13)

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Training African American Girls

Nannie Helen Burroughs, an educator, public speaker, and churchwoman, was an ardent follower of Booker T. Washington's philosophy. She worked tirelessly with the National Baptist Convention's Women's Auxiliary, first as recording secretary and then as president, for over fifty years. She established a school for girls in the District of Columbia in 1909 so as to provide them with vocational and missionary training. She stated that in addition to the three R's—reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, these young women needed the three B's—the Bible, the bath, and the broom. Burroughs often battled men within her denomination about the ownership and administration of her school.

First Commencement Exercise. National Training School for Women and Girls. Lincoln Heights, Washington, D.C., June 9, 1911. Copyprint. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-119986 (6–14)

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Fire Insurance Maps of Hampton Institute

Fire insurance maps provide large-scale surveys of cities and most major towns throughout the U. S. from the last quarter of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th. They often show colleges and other academic institutions, such as Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute, founded in 1868 in Hampton, Virginia. The number, size, shape, and construction of buildings on the campus at the end of the 19th century are portrayed on these two map sheets from January 1891.

Hampton University, as the institute was eventually renamed, and several other historically black colleges and universities, were founded to provide the education and skills that the ex-slave needed to become self-reliant.

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  • Elizabeth City County, Va. Hand-colored lithograph map. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, sheet 5. New York: Sanborn Perris Map Co., 1891. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (6–4a)

  • Elizabeth City County, Va. Hand-colored lithograph map. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, sheet 6. New York: Sanborn Perris Map Co., 1891. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (6–4b)

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Rights for African American Women

While Burroughs represented working class women, Mary Church Terrell was a member of the African American elite. As a speaker, writer, and political activist, she dedicated the lion's share of her talent to the pursuit of full citizenship for both women and blacks. In 1898, Terrell, then president of the National Association of Colored Women, gave this address before the all-white National American Women's Suffrage Association. She pointed out that for black women, access to education and employment were as important as the vote. Terrell's autobiography was called A Colored Woman in a White World (1940); some of her papers, including the manuscript for her autobiography, as well as those of her husband, are in the Library's Manuscript Division.

Mary Church Terrell. The Progress of Colored Women. Washington: Smith Brothers, 1898. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (6–15)

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George Washington Carver

Botanist George Washington Carver, a former slave, contributed immensely to the understanding and development of the South's economic potential. Carver shared the results of his useful agricultural experiments—especially the peanut and the sweet potato—in pamphlets such as this one. In the preface, Booker T. Washington writes:

“I have asked Professor George W. Carver to make a careful study of the condition and needs of the farmers in Macon and surrounding counties and to publish something that will be of immediate and practical help to the farmers in this section. It will pay, in my opinion, for every man interested in farming...to read carefully the suggestions which Prof. Carver has made.”

George Carver. Help for the Hard Times. Alabama: Tuskegee Institute, ca. 1916. General Collections, Library of Congress (6–16)

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Breakthroughs In The Sports Arena

African American Jack Johnson, defeated Canadian Tommy Burns in 1908 in the World Boxing Championship. This initiated the quest to find a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson. James Jeffries, a leading white fighter, came out of retirement to answer the challenge. Johnson won their fight on July 4, 1910. News of Jeffries's defeat ignited numerous incidents of white violence against blacks. However, black poet William Waring Cuney captured the exuberant African American reaction in his poem, “My Lord, What a Morning”:

O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries'
Snow-white face
to the ceiling.

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Madame C. J. Walker's Mansion on the Hudson

This home was designed in 1918 by an African American architect, Vertner Woodson Tandy, for an African American cosmetics magnate, Madame C. J. Walker, on the Hudson River north of New York City. When Madame Walker was asked why she built such a palatial home, she replied that she had not built it for herself but so that blacks could see what could be accomplished with hard work and determination.

Villa Lewaro, the name of the estate, has significance for both its architect and original owner. Tandy was New York's first licensed black architect. This building was known as his best work. No one knows Mme. Walker's exact worth, but she was considered to be the nation's first African American woman millionaire.

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Lynching Crusade

Crusade Against Lynching

Established by the NAACP in 1916 to develop an effective program to stamp out lynching, the Anti-lynching Committee developed legislative and public awareness campaigns. In 1919 the NAACP published Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918. This report indicated that 3,224 people were lynched in the thirty-year period. Of these, 702 were white and 2,522 black. Among the justifications given for the lynchings were petty offenses such as “using offensive language, refusal to give up land, illicit distilling.”

The Committee also compiled lynching statistics in 1921. It took full-page advertisements on November 23, 1922, in The New York Times, The Atlanta Constitution, and several other leading newspapers entitled “The Shame of America,” with the subheading “3436 People Lynched 1889 to 1922.”

Report of Anti-lynching Committee, January 21, 1921. Transcript. NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (7-7)
Courtesy of the NAACP

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Woman Journalist Crusades Against Lynching

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the fiery journalist, lecturer and civil rights militant, is best known for her tireless crusade against lynching and her fearless efforts to expose violence against blacks. Catapulted emotionally into the cause after two of her friends were lynched in Tennessee, and after the destruction of her presses, Wells-Barnett never stopped fighting for justice. She encouraged church groups and women's clubs to be more aggressive in demanding political and civil rights and helped to create a number of national organizations—including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—that would strengthen awareness of racial issues.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Lynch Law in Georgia. Chicago: Anti-Lynching Bureau, 1890. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (6–11)

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Organizing for Civil Rights

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People"The Call

In January 1909 an interracial group assembled at the New York apartment of William English Walling to discuss proposals for an organization that would advocate the civil and political rights of African Americans. To garner support, the group decided to issue a call for a national conference on the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, February 12, 1909.

Written by Oswald Garrison Villard, the “Call” was sent to a number of prominent white and black Americans for endorsement. Among the sixty signers of the Call were Jane Addams, John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Francis J. Grimke, and Ray Stannard Baker.

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  • National Negro Committee. A call for a national conference, 1909. NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–9a)
    Courtesy of the NAACP

  • William G. Walling to Ray Stannard Baker, February 6, 1909. Typed letter. NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–9b)
    Courtesy of the NAACP

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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—Platform

Even though Booker T. Washington called for reconciliation between the races, the period of his ascendancy as a leader was one of tremendous racial violence toward African Americans in various parts of the United States, but especially in the South. After a terrible race riot in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908, an interracial group, comprised mainly of whites, but with a few prominent African Americans, met in 1909 to form an organization that was soon named the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organizational goals were the abolition of segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and racial violence, particularly lynching. The “first and immediate steps” of the organization are listed at the bottom of the document.

Platform adopted by the National Negro Committee, 1909. Document. NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–8)
Courtesy of the NAACP

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Formation of the National Urban League

After the turn of the century the distribution of the African American population shifted dramatically, as thousands migrated from the rural South to the urban North in search of better economic, social, and political opportunities. The Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes was founded in 1910 by a coalition of progressive black and white professionals. The following year the Committee merged with two other interracial social welfare agencies in New York to form the National League on Urban Conditions among the Negroes, later known as the National Urban League. The League's principal goal was to promote the improvement of “industrial, economic, social, and spiritual conditions among Negroes” in the cities. The League helped migrants and other urban blacks to find jobs and housing and sponsored training and other programs.

Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes, Minutes of the First Meeting. New York, N.Y., September 29, 1910. National Urban League Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6–22)
Courtesy of the National Urban League

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“A Man Was Lynched Yesterday”

At its headquarters, 69 Fifth Avenue, New York City, the NAACP flew a flag to report lynchings, until, in 1938, the threat of losing its lease forced the association to discontinue the practice.

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday. Flag flying above Fifth Avenue, New York City, ca. 1938. Copyprint. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4734/LC-USZ62-33793 (6–10b)
Courtesy of the NAACP

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