“The first black expo geared toward African-Americans was held in 1895 in Atlanta to help further educate Americans on African-American accomplishments. Even though many African-Americans (freed and otherwise) were already credited with numerous inventions and technological advancements which helped to modernize this country, during the years of slavery and for the three decades following emancipation, expositions were held which excluded African-Americans and their products and services. In 1895, however, when Atlanta hosted the Cotton States and International Exposition, the services and products of many African-American entrepreneurs in America were showcased.
The Cotton States Exposition’s goals were to foster trade between southern states and South American nations as well as to show the products and facilities of the region to the rest of the nation and to Europe. Over the three months of the Exposition, over 800,000 attendees visited the event. There were exhibits by six states and special buildings featuring the accomplishments of women and blacks. The “Negro Building” included approximately 30,000 square feet. During that year Booker T. Washington, Bishop W. J. Gaines of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and other highly respected citizens of Atlanta came together to discuss the inclusion of African-Americans in the Cotton States and International Exposition. They believed that the participation of African-Americans would show that the two races (Black and Caucasian) shared common interests and concerns.
African-Americans were invited to create exhibits that highlighted their achievements since the end of slavery. Freed men across the nation were allowed to use “the Negro Building”—a 30,000 square foot (112 feet wide X 270 feet X 70 feet high) structure – to show their wares. African-Americans filled the building, producing their own exhibits and raising all necessary funds as evidence of their self-sufficiency and a show of their interest. The building and exhibit was managed by a group of prominent African-American men. This “Central Board,” which met at Clark University, included such influential as political leader and educator Booker T. Washington and other African-American men of distinction from across the nation”.
Resource: Black Expos of America