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The "Negro Building"

The exhibition inside the “Negro Building” showcased African American advancements in literature, art, education, agriculture, history, and science. The exhibition gave African Americans the chance to celebrate special dates dedicated to the accomplished members of their community, including farmers, doctors, and bankers. The “Negro Building” also hosted prominent speakers and conventions on the key issues that impacted the African American community, including discussions of prejudices and segregation. The biggest promoters of African American issues were black women, who extensively advocated for temperance and advancement of women, as well as protesting racism and lynching.

The African American exhibition was considered a success. Many African Americans were moved by the sight of how far their community had come since emancipation. President Grover Cleveland himself viewed the exhibition and offered a review of high regard. Perhaps the greatest criticism was the lack of industry or manufacturing found in the exhibition. Many of the artifacts displayed in the exhibits were crafted by hand. The “Negro Building” had, in some ways, failed to meet the criteria of modernization created by the founders of the exposition. However, this lack of industry was not the result of lack of ability or improvement of the African American community. Rather, the lack of opportunities and jobs for blacks in factories or manufacturing companies limited the ability of African Americans to contribute in the exposition’s conceptions of Southern progress.

The most important legacy of the “Negro Building” at the Cotton States Exposition was not the accomplishments that it displayed. Nor was it that African Americans had been allowed to develop an exhibition at all. In the end, the legacy of the “Negro Building” was that it showcased the contributions African Americans could add to the new Southern economy. The African Americans at the exposition positioned themselves at the center of Southern progress.