Early Chicago: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

(Source: Chicago History Museum)

Black leaders found a strong and supportive nation at the Columbian Exposition: Haiti. Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, editor, author, and statesman was appointed as Haiti's co-commissioner to the World's Fair and used the Haitian Pavilion in the "White City" as a base where visiting African Americans could not only feel at home, but also make visible their protest of exclusion from the Exposition.

To appease black protesters, fair organizers designated August 25th as "Colored American Day," in celebration of African American achievement. The highlight of that day was the speech given by Frederick Douglass which attracted 2,500 fairgoers. After being heckled by an audience member about the "Negro problem," Douglass put aside his prepared remarks and refuted the challenger's remarks in an eloquent and rousing speech.

There is, in fact, no such problem. The real problem has been given a false name. It is called Negro for a purpose. It has substituted Negro for nation, because the one is despised and hated, and the other is loved and honored. The true problem is a national problem. Further, the problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution...

Douglass concluded by declaring, "Look at the progress the Negro has made in 30 years! ... Measure the Negro. But not by the standard of the splendid civilization of the Caucasian. Bend down and measure him — measure him from the depths out of which he has risen."