Negro Building

Focusing on black Americans’ participation in world’s fairs, Emancipation expositions, and early black grassroots museums,Negro Building traces the evolution of black public history from the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Mabel O. Wilson gives voice to the figures that conceived the curatorial content—Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, A. Philip Randolph, Horace Cayton and Margaret Burroughs. As the 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., approaches, the book reveals why the black cities of Chicago and Detroit became the sites of major black historical museums rather than the nation’s capital—until now.


Related projects


- Sites of Memory

- African Burial Ground



University of California Press




"Negro Building is the most comprehensive study yet published about the long history of representations of, by, and for African Americans at world’s fairs and museums. Wilson’s book underscores why cultural representations have mattered and continue to matter for African Americans—and for everyone trying to understand what it means to be an American."—Robert W. Rydell, author of All the World's a Fair.



Negro Building, Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, Atlanta, 1895.
​From Cooper, Walter G. The Cotton States and International Exposition and South, Illustrated. Atlanta: The Illustrator Company, 1896.
Courtesy of Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University


“With abundant archival insights, Mabel Wilson's highly original study of the role of world's fairs in the making of a black public sphere vividly illuminates the transition from Reconstruction to Afro-Modernity with page-turning brilliance. Making a unique contribution to the fields of art history, architecture, visual culture and museum studies, this book offers us a bold interdisciplinary model for first-rate scholarship in African American studies that profoundly enriches our understanding of the Black Atlantic world.”—Kobena Mercer, Professor of African American Studies and History of Art, Yale University



IAM Mobile Museum stationed on Twelfth Street, Detroit, 1967.
Courtesy of Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. PH104-12.