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October 20, 2003

Historians to Discuss Images of Early African American Life in Library of Congress Program

Photographic images of African American life at the turn of the 20th century are the subject of a talk by historians David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 29, in the Mumford Room, sixth floor, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. Lewis and Willis’ book, "A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois & African American Portraits of Progress" (Amistad, 2003), is based on the Library’s collection of photographs showcased in "The Exhibit of American Negroes" at the 1900 Paris International Exposition.

The program is part of the Center for the Book’s author series, Books & Beyond, which highlights books of special relevance to the Library of Congress. Co-sponsored by the Library’s Publishing Office, the event is free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required. A book-signing will follow the presentation.

"A Small Nation of People" features 150 images taken from the complete set of photographs gathered for the 1900 exhibition by W.E.B. Du Bois, African American attorney Thomas Calloway and Daniel A.P. Murray. Murray, a son of freed slaves and assistant Librarian of Congress, was instrumental in building the Library’s extensive collection of books, pamphlets and photographs demonstrating African American achievements.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, praised the book as "a fascinating representation of black America at the turn of the 20th century—and a generation of African Americans who deeply believed it was their responsibility to create a new identity and a better future in this country for themselves and their children."

The essays by Lewis and Willis shed new light about pivotal events in American history and the history of photography. The historians also provide the context for the selection of the photographs showcased in 1900 and explain their importance today.

David Levering Lewis, a professor of history at New York University and a MacArthur Fellow recipient, is the author of several books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963" (2000) and "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919" (1993). He also was a featured speaker at the 2001 and 2002 National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress.

Deborah Willis, also a MacArthur Fellow, writes frequently about blacks and the history of photography. Among her latest books is "Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840-Present" (2000). She is a professor of photography and imaging at New York University.

The Center for the Book was established in 1977 as a public-private partnership to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy and libraries. For information about its forthcoming events and projects, and the activities of its affiliates in 50 states and the District of Columbia, visit its Web site at www.loc.gov/cfbook.

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PR 03-183
10/20/03
ISSN 0731-3527

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