Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Jane T. Merritt (Director)

Committee Member

Maura Hametz

Committee Member

Timothy Orr


World expositions of the nineteenth and early twentieth century often displayed the latest anthropological, ethnological, biological, and technological research on race and ethnicity, promoting the view that whites were superior to all other peoples. The Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907, held in Norfolk, Virginia to commemorate the three-hundred anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown settlement and its contribution to the building of the United States, offers an opportunity to examine American perspectives on whiteness, race, and society.

First, the Jamestown Exposition offered a glimpse into the historical memory of white America, especially the influential citizens that comprised the controlling entity behind the event, the Jamestown Exposition Company, as they determined how to commemorate the founding of Jamestown, United States history, and race and ethnicity. Second, the event offered a view of race relations in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century, as several components of the exposition displayed information about minorities and persons of color in the United States and around the world, placing them in the dominant, white narrative offered in the records, histories, souvenirs, and exhibits of the event. Third, the Jamestown Exposition offered a window into the growing movement to advance the rights and status of African Americans, as evidenced by the efforts of the Negro Development and Exposition Company (N.D.E.C.), which used its building and exhibits to provide a more accurate and less biased history of African Americans and promote the view that they were industrious, competent, and worthy of equal status with white Americans.

The Jamestown Exposition reflected the dominant narrative of race in the United States, created and controlled by white Americans and promoting the view that whites were superior. While exhibitions included commemorations of American Indians and displayed various peoples such as Filipinos, the central focus of this thesis is the African American attempt to take control of the display of their race rather than allow the Jamestown Exposition Company and white Americans to perpetuate their racist views. African Americans who participated in the Jamestown Exposition sought to overcome the overwhelming racism from white Americans by taking matters into their own hands and illustrating their worth and equality through education exhibits. Ultimately, the narrative of white superiority, scientific racism, and nonwhite exploitation dominated the event, included in the exhibits, guides, histories, and souvenirs of the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition.


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