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PPIE Centennial

by Lynn Hudson

This is our Fair and our State

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Delilah Beasley

June 10, 1915, was an otherwise typical spring day in San Francisco when the influential journalist Delilah Beasley made the journey across the bay to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition from her home in Berkeley. Beasley, writing simultaneously for northern California's mainstream daily and largest newspaper, the Oakland Tribune, and for the black newspaper, the Oakland Sunshine, had visited the 1915World's Fair before. But this time, she went with a different purpose: to witness the Bay Area's African American citizens as they marched in a parade at the state's most spectacular event of the year. Beasley and other African Americans believed that the PPIE was an ideal setting to assert their presence as citizens.

The year 1915 marked a pivotal moment in the history of black Californians. In that year, African Americans formed Northern California’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and organized a massive outcry against the degrading portrayals of African Americans in Thomas Dixon’s play, The Clansman, and D. W. Griffith’s newly released film version, The Birth of a Nation. Beasley interpreted these events for a large California readership. Her viewpoint as a journalist and her role as a historian make her a compelling figure through which to examine the convergence of these events in state history.

While there has been a significant amount of scholarship about the PPIE, most of it has focused on the exhibits, the architecture, and the planners. Less has been written about spectators and next to nothing about African Americans. This has partly to do with the difficulty in locating sources; we do not have records that indicate the number of black men and women who attended the fair or the names and backgrounds of the African American workers. The story of black Californians and the PPIE also has been eclipsed in the historiography by the better-known and dramatic history of African Americans and the 1893 Chicago exposition. But given the lessons that world’s fairs impart about the place of race in the state and the nation, the prominence of the PPIE in California’s history, and the timing of the fair with one of the most significant protests in California black history, the response of African Americans to the PPIE deserves further consideration.

Source: www.PPIE100.org

Adapted from Lynn Hudson’s full-length article in California History, the journal of the California Historical Society. Professor Hudson teaches courses on slavery and abolition in the U.S., western history, social movements, public history, and the history of gender and sexuality She also wrote the book, The Making of “Mammy Pleasant” A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (University of Illinois Press 2003)

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