Exhibition Overview

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship explores black America's quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century. It showcases the incomparable African American collections of the Library of Congress by displaying more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, and plays in the largest black history exhibit ever presented by the Library.

The Library's materials, gathered over the two hundred years of its existence, tell the story of the African American experience through nine chronological periods. These periods document the courage and determination of blacks in adverse circumstances who overcame immense odds to fully participate in all aspects of American society:

Slavery--The Peculiar Institution traces the slave trade and explores the methods enslaved Africans used to resist their enslavement; strategies varied, but the goal remained unchanged: freedom and equality.

Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period presents the commentary of blacks in both the North and South who spoke out on the injustice of slavery, and illuminates the role of the church, and the importance of education, the Underground Railroad, and the Back-to-Africa Movement.

Abolition, Antislavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy examines the role of black and white abolitionists and antislavery societies in the continuing debate over slavery during the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Civil War looks at the Emancipation Proclamation and challenges assumptions of African American passivity in the war effort, while showcasing the accomplishments of brave African Americans such as the United States Colored Troops.

Reconstruction and its Aftermath illustrates the division during Reconstruction between a hostile South and an apathetic North. In this reorganization, newly emancipated African Americans struggled for literacy and political empowerment during a time of growing legalized disenfranchisement.

The Booker T. Washington Era focuses on the fight for greater educational opportunities, the formation of the NAACP, and the progress of blacks in the last decades of the nineteenth century, against the backdrop of the most prolific period of racial violence and terror in U.S. history.

World War I and Post-War Society explores black military troops fighting for integration and equality in the armed services, a galvanized black community striving for true democracy, and the rise of "The New Negro" and the Harlem Renaissance.

The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II examines new economic opportunities available to blacks through government programs and with the growing need for labor to fight the war.

The Civil Rights Era explores the Jim Crow South, the fight against racial discrimination and segregation, and the search for justice of African American men and women through "freedom rides," boycotts, and marches, during this decisive point in black history.

The African American Odyssey was presented at the Library of Congress from February 5 through May 2, 1998, in the Jefferson, Madison and Adams buildings. This was the first exhibition of any kind to be presented in all three of the Library's buildings. The major presentation in the Jefferson Building was entitled The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship; in the Madison Building, The African American Odyssey: Fine Prints and Photographs by Twentieth-Century African American Artists; and in the Adams Building, The African American Odyssey: Black Business and Family Life at the Turn of the Century in the Daniel A.P. Murray Collection.

African American Odyssey Introduction

Library of Congress