Field Notes: Infographics and the Georgia Negro

By Kristy Tillman
“The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line”– W.E.B. Du Bois 
These infographics were created at the turn of the 19th century by sociology students at what is now Clark Atlanta University, under the guidance of W.E.B. Du Bois. Initially prepared for a display called The Georgia Negro at the larger exhibition entitled The Exhibit of the American Negroes in Paris. The Exhibit of American Negroes was a sociological exhibition shown at the Paris 1900 International Exposition, also known as the World's Fair. The display was conceived by W. E. B. Du Bois, Thomas Calloway, Daniel Murray and several historic black colleges. The original exhibit included thousands of photographs, as well as hundreds of books, pamphlets, and assorted documents, chronicling the experience of Black Americans from the Civil War to the year 1900.

Du Bois stated “The great World's Fair at Paris was being planned and I thought I might put my findings into plans, charts and figures, so one might see what we were trying to accomplish. I got a couple of my best students and put a series of facts into charts: the size and growth of the Negro American group; its division by age and sex; its distribution, education and occupations; its books and periodicals. We made a most interesting set of drawings, limned on pasteboard cards about a yard square and mounted on a number of moveable standards.” 

The charts themselves give us insightful socioeconomic data about the Black American community during this time in an unprecedented way. The real brilliance behind the visualizations was the political act of disseminating understandable information about a marginalized group globally. Using the graphic technique of simplifying a highly complex situation into a visualized data set was a transformative act by Du Bois and his students in rallying international attention for civil right struggles in the United States. In addition, this form of communicating skirts potential language barriers to make the information available to the widest potential audience. 

Post a Comment