From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

World's Columbian Exposition 1893

In 1890, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison appointed a national commission with representation from all states and territories to oversee the planning of the world's fair, to take place in Chicago during the summer of 1893. No African Americans were selected for the commission or the Board of Lady Managers that was headed by Mrs. Bertha Honore Palmer, a Chicago socialite originally from Kentucky. African American contributions were also missing from the majority of the exhibits; these exclusions were cause for protests.

There were also ongoing disagreements between various African American groups about the fair. An attempt to appease the protesters resulted in a Colored Jubilee Day being held in August 1893. Discrimination of public accommodations was not part of the grievance; during the fair only one incidence of exclusion based on race was reported: Miss Mary Britton of Lexington, KY, was denied entrance to the Kentucky Building. The building had also been featured in one of the series of stereotyped cartoons about the unenlightened Johnson family, former slaves, who were attending the fair. The cartoons were printed in issues of Harper's Weekly.

For more about African Americans and the Columbian Exposition see All the World is Here!: the Black presence at White City, by C. R. Reed; and Rudwick & Meier, "Black Man in the White City: Negroes and the Columbian Exposition, 1893," Phylon, vol. 26, issue 4 (1965), pp. 354-361.

For more about the Kentucky Building, see the cartoon in Harper's Weekly, 11/4/1893, p. 1059.

For more about the Mary Britton incident, see The Freeman (Indianapolis, IN), vol. 5, issue 32, front page, bottom of column one. The Hifner Photo Collection of Woodford County, KY Schools was created in 1892 for the educational exhibit at the World's Fair, available online via the Kentucky Historical Society Digital Collections web page.

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“World's Columbian Exposition 1893,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-01-21 19:53:27