Close readers of this site already know that infographics were around long before Photoshop. But these sociological charts of black history, hand-made by students of famed African-American thinker and activist W.E.B. DuBois at Atlanta University in 1900, pack a serious punch. The Civil War had only ended decades earlier, and freed slaves and their descendants were hardly enjoying a post-racist paradise. DuBois’s students — and DuBois himself — were living that story themselves even as they quantified it in infographic form:
As New York-based designer L. Eckstein explains on her site, DuBois organized the report as part of the “Georgia Negro Exhibit” for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. (That’s why the text appears in French as well as English.) The exhibit included over 60 charts, maps, and photographs — and in addition to their amazing historical value, they’re astonishingly beautiful in their design, too.
The razor-crisp graphics combined with handmade colors provide a poignant birds-eye view of African American economic life in Georgia at the turn of the century: clear progress had been made since Reconstruction, but there was so much further left to go.
The Library of Congress only has these three images in color, but there are many more in black and white — many of them downright experimental in their design. It’s a stunning snapshot of how one of America’s great struggles was unfolding, with design itself telling the story in medias res.