Slavery to Segregation

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Abolitionists used census data to map the African American population at the outset of the U.S. Civil War. Across the next four decades, official statistical atlases introduced abstract chart forms to further characterize the newly emancipated people. These information graphics were sometimes framed by their authors as more objective counterpoints to pervasive racist concerns. In 1900, government data soared to new heights through the graphic designs and advocacy of W. E. B. Du Bois.


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A Map of the Cotton Kingdom

and Its Dependencies in America

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.

1861, New York

Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted produced this work of graphic advocacy using data from the U.S. Census of 1850. It showed that emancipation would not increase the price of cotton. His target audience was British industrialists who relied on American cotton and were considering weighing in on the war. The map’s colors and overlaying textures contrast two different factors. Colors indicate areas of high cotton production (blue), measured in bales per slave. Texture lines indicate the relative population of slaves, in slaves per freeman. The combined effect shows how disjointed the scourge of slavery was from the production of cotton, especially in blue sectors with few slaves. Olmsted’s abolitionism and economic advocacy were inspired by his own tours through the South before the Civil War. ❧


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Distribution Of The Slave Population

Of The Southern States

Edwin Hergesheimer, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey

1861, Washington

The percentage of slaves in each county is labeled and illustrated in nine finely-executed textures. The map was produced from the results of the U.S. Census of 1860, the final count of American slaves. “Sold for the benefit of the Sick and Wounded Soliders of the U.S. ARMY,” the map gave the public a visible understanding of the widespread condition of slavery at the outset of the Civil War. The map is featured in the foreground of Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s 1864 painting of Abraham Lincoln with his cabinet, titled First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. ❧


Francis Amasa Walker (1840–1897) was Superintendent of the U.S. Census of 1870, which was the first to count emancipated African Americans. Walker visualized its data in the first statistical atlas published by the U.S. government. His atlas showed the census’s race category across geographic and abstract designs. Walker went on to become the nation's preeminent statistician, leading a variety of institutions including the American Statistical Association, the American Economic Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Colored Population, U.S. Census of 1870

Relative Proportion to the Aggregate Population and Absolute Density

Francis Amasa Walker, United States Census Office

1874, Washington

Walker presents relative and absolute views of the African American population. He notes census errors in sparse settlements. The shaded blue line indicates the outside limit of the measurable population (2 or more to the square mile). By the next census, the map will stretch to the Pacific Ocean to accommodate the closing of the frontier. ❧


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Population of Each State

U.S. Census of 1870

Francis Amasa Walker, United States Census Office

1874, Washington

This early mosaic displays each state’s population as a square. Vertical columns within the square represent foreign and native demographics by race. These columns are segmented to indicate inner-state migration by differentiating natives born in-state (bottom) and natives who migrated from another state (top). The vertical rectangles to the right of each square represent outward migration from each state, broken down by racial category. ❧


Henry Gannett (1846–1914) was an American geographer who modernized topographic standards. Gannett was one of the key founders of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Geographic Society. As geographer for the U.S. census, Gannett followed Walker’s lead and published three U.S. census statistical atlases: 1880, 1890, and 1900. Each one contained new kinds of information graphics. These innovations were often developed first in smaller publications, such as Gannet’s Statistics of the Negroes in the United States (1894). This short book’s many graphics illustrated what census data could tell us about the African American population. Gannett’s accompanying narrative—a mix of racist paternalism and progressive optimism—gives us a hint of the scientific establishment’s perspective:

Only one generation has elapsed since the slaves were freed. To raise a people from slavery to civilization is a matter, not of years, but of many generations. The progress which the race has made in this generation in industry, morality, and education is a source of the highest gratification to all friends of the race, to all excepting those who expected a miraculous conversion. -Henry Gannett, 1894

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Colored Population Ratio

U.S. Census of 1880

Henry Gannett, United States Census Office

1883, New York

Gannett picks up the torch from Walker, continuing the same population map style used to depict the previous two censuses. By 1880, the whole continental United States had to be shown to incorporate the growing West Coast. State summaries are provided with inset maps and charts. ❧


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Charts Comparing Population Demographics

U.S. Census of 1890

Henry Gannett, United States Census Office

1898, Washington

Distribution of Those Engaged in Certain Selected Occupations distances “whites with native parents” from “colored” workers. White immigrants are broken into numbered categories, but there is no parallel effort by authorities to establish the origin of African Americans. Scanning the occupations categories reveals that African Americans hold most laundry jobs but are not bookkeepers or accountants.

Growth of the Elements of the Population details the then recent waves of European immigration, with more recent time at the bottom. African Americans are distinctly set against the white population, diverging from a vertical barrier between the two. Gannett commented elsewhere that the post-Civil War increase in the African American population showed that their prior slow growth was a function of their enslaved condition, not any inherent inferiority. ❧


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Charts Comparing Population Demographics

U.S. Census of 1900

Henry Gannett, United States Census Office

1903, Washington

Gannett’s final statistical atlas dedicates several pages to examining differences between racial categories. This volume is less lavish than its predecessors, forcing more spartan charts that would become typical for the rest of the 20th century. ❧


W. E. B. Du Bois was a prolific American sociologist and civil rights activist. His 1899 book The Philadelphia Negro used state-of-the-art data graphics to illustrate the first significant empirical study of African American life. The book was a critical foundation for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. There, Du Bois curated The Exhibit of American Negroes, a multimedia commemoration of the lives of African Americans that challenged the racist caricatures and stereotypes of the day. He presented his information graphics in two separate narratives. One focused on the state of Georgia and the other examined the country as a whole. These statistical charts introduced several new designs to advocate for the dignity of African Americans. Du Bois’s hand lettering, bold colors, and unique forms combined to eclipse design conventions and further elevate statistical charts to art. Soon after Paris, in 1903, Du Bois published a collection of essays titled The Souls of Black Folk. It presented the intellectual argument for the freedom struggle and became a foundational text for the civil rights movements that followed.

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The Seventh Ward of Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Negro

W. E. B. Du Bois

1899, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Negro presents the first significant empirical study of African American life. Its charts and thematic maps are an early example of a minimal visualization style associated with the mechanized practicalities of the modern age. W. E. B. Du Bois created the work at the beginning of his research career. It foreshadows his later achievements in social science, communication arts, and activism.

This thematic map colors individual African American houses by their social condition, ranging from the “vicious and criminal” (black) to middle classes (red). White households and public buildings are left paper white. ❧

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Proportion of National Population

The Philadelphia Negro

W. E. B. Du Bois

1899, Philadelphia

Image courtesy of Wellesley College Library via archive.org.

Du Bois illustrates two comparisons with a single chart: "the rate of increase in a large city compared with that in the country at large; and the changes in the proportion of Negro inhabitants in the city and the United States." The graphic is accompanied by a narrative and data tables. Its skeuomorphic tear emphasizes the proportional presentation by including the topline 100%, without diminishing the data curves. ❧

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Occupations in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward

The Philadelphia Negro

W. E. B. Du Bois

1899, Philadelphia

Image courtesy of Wellesley College Library via archive.org.

Du Bois compares occupation disparities across race and sex. A single bar extends beyond the annotation frame to emphasize the percentage of Black women engaged in domestic and personal service. The accompanying narrative rises above the details of the distributions to comment that the relatively high proportion of employed Blacks is an indication of an absence of accumulated wealth. ❧


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Distribution of Negroes in the United States

A series of statistical charts illustrating the condition of the descendants of former African slaves now in residence in the United States of America

W. E. B. Du Bois

1900, Paris

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-33900.

Du Bois abandons the technical design convention established by U.S. census population maps to create a gripping view of the African American population. The map’s bold colors and simple design helped attract attention and deliver a punchy message to the thousands of Exposition attendees. ❧

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The Amalgamation of the White and Black Elements

A series of statistical charts illustrating the condition of the descendants of former African slaves now in residence in the United States of America

W. E. B. Du Bois

1900, Paris

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-33916.

Du Bois references Gannett’s Growth of the Elements of the Population (shown earlier in this section). He flips the axis and increases its scale to highlight the African American population, literally casting whites to the side. The mixed-race category is colored beyond the precise borders of the reported data with fuzzy colors. This artistic flourish seems to imply doubt with these numbers and perhaps even calls their importance into question. ❧

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City and Rural Population 1890

The Georgia Negro

W. E. B. Du Bois

1900, Paris

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-33873.

Du Bois simultaneously emphasized and compressed the relatively large rural African American population of Georgia. His four-color diagonal bars and spiral graph have become the most iconic image of the exhibition. ❧


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