In Chicago, 1893, black people were excluded from the activities of the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition, also known as The World’s Fair. The event had been dubbed “the White City” to describe the area at the Court of Honor. At first, blacks could work at the event, but not attend. A young Paul Laurence Dunbar was a lavatory attendant, young James Weldon Johnson was a chair boy and Nancy Green worked as Aunt Jemima. Other performers included Sissierietta Jones the opera singer, Scott Joplin, classical violinist Joseph Douglass and Abigail Christensen.
Ida B. Wells led the black protest of the fair. To answer the boycott and make money, fair organizers designated Friday, August 25th as “Colored American Day.” Thousands gathered to hear Frederick Douglass, former Ambassador to Haiti, speak at the Haitian pavilion. Other speakers were Booker T. Washington and Hallie Brown. Wilberforce, Hampton and Atlanta University had exhibits on the grounds and African natives from Dahomey had been flown in to rebuild their Fon village on site.
Some blacks were insulted by the fair Board’s decision, especially after they announced that 2,000 watermelons would be brought in for Colored American Day. Among those disappointed was protest organizer, Ida B. Wells.
The World’s Columbian Exposition was originally composed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. The grounds covered over 600 acres. Over 27 million people attended the fair over the six-month period with only 2,500 people in attendance for Colored American Day.