The Illuminating Illustrations of Civil Rights Activist W.E.B. Du Bois

The 118-year-old graphic representations, which detailed the progress of newly-freed African Americans, are being re-published for Du Bois’s 150th birthday.
WEB Du Bois Data Portraits book

This plate from W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits (Princeton Architectural Press, $30) illustrates Du Bois’s original presentations of data. Here, concentric rings show the rate and amount of growth in the value of black-owned land between 1875 and 1899.

In April 1900, a series of graphic representations of sociological data on African Americans debuted at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The work of W.E.B. Du Bois and a team of researchers affiliated with Atlanta University, it presented a picture of the lives of black Americans 35 years after the U.S. abolished slavery. Until then, world’s fairs had represented nonwhite races through the dehumanizing lens of social Darwinism. Radically, Du Bois’s illustrations showed the gains African Americans had made despite persistent racism and white supremacy, as Whitney Battle- Baptiste and Britt Rusert argue in their editors’ introduction to W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, out this month. Collected for the first time in book form on the occasion of Du Bois’s 150th birthday, and accompanied by academic essays, the infographics underscore the groundbreaking contributions of this eminent intellect and activist.

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Categories: Arts + Culture