Panel discussion on race at the World Columbian Exhibition Sunday

Staff Writer

Friends of the Parks, the Hyde Park Historical Society and the DuSable Heritage Association will co-host a panel discussion about race and the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Historical Society, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave.

The discussion is centered upon the Haitian Pavilion at the World’s Fair and will include a tour of its site as well as current archaeological excavations in Jackson Park. Haiti, one of only a few predominantly black independent countries in 1893, was the only such nation represented at the World Columbian Exhibition.

Frederick Douglass, who led the U.S. diplomatic mission in Haiti from 1889 to 1891, was one of the island representatives at its pavillion. He was one of the few prominent black Americans present at the World’s Fair and attacked its segregation in a pamphlet he drafted and distributed with Ida B. Wells.

“Theoretically open to all Americans, the Exposition practically is, literally and figuratively, a ‘White City,’ in the building of which the Colored American was allowed no helping hand, and in its glorious success he has no share,” they wrote, later lauding Haiti for giving them “acceptable representation” there.

“Friends of the Parks is facing head on the difficult conversations Chicago and our larger society need to have about race,” said the nonprofit’s executive director, Juanita Irizarry, in a statement. “We have been asking the question what it means for parks to be democratic spaces, and we can’t be real about that issue without acknowledging the barriers to access that blacks, especially, have had to full and equitable participation in Chicago’s parks and our democracy.”

Panelists include Christopher R. Reed, professor emeritus at Roosevelt University, and Lake Forest College professors Rebecca S. Graff and Courtney S. Pierre-Cain.

The event, entitled “No Blacks in the ‘White City’?” is part of Friends of the Parks’ ongoing Walter Netsch Lecture Series. This year marks the World Columbian Exhibition’s 125th anniversary.