To showcase African American agricultural and educational achievement, the North Carolina Industrial Association (NCIA) hosted the African American Industrial fair. Developed in 1879 through the efforts of Charles N. Hunter and twenty-two African American businessmen, the North Carolina Industrial Association fostered better race relations among blacks and whites in Raleigh for a week of festivities.
To encourage a large attendance, the members of the Association requested objects for display. Donations from ministers, educators, and community leaders contributed agricultural products, livestock, produce, and crafts. According to historian Kathleen Ann Clark, supervisors in the Educational Productions Department displayed map drawings, essays, and examples of penmanship. Also in the Department of Mechanic Arts, the supervisors showed the work of carpenters, cabinetmakers, and upholsterers.
With the aim and purpose of creating better race relations in North Carolina, the NCIA hosted black and white political speakers. Featured speakers included black leaders, such as Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, and white officials, including Governor Thomas Jarvis and Governor Zebulon B. Vance. The black fairs included speeches, parades, education day exhibits, agricultural exhibits, and football games among black colleges such as Shaw University (formally Raleigh Institute) and Augustine’s School (now Saint Augustine’s College). At the first fair, the organizers encouraged black farmers, artisans, and educators to exhibit their work to show black educational and vocational advancement. In the association’s efforts to convince whites of black advancement, they also had to convince skeptical blacks. In an effort to gain support of the Industrial fair movement, the members advertised to blacks in North Carolina through flyers and meetings.
The Association’s Journal of Industry detailed the events at the first annual fair in 1879. Trains were chartered at special rates to bring North Carolina fairgoers to Raleigh. Black and white speakers were requested to discuss the economic advancement among blacks and the increasing racial harmony in North Carolina. In Journal of Industry, editors Charles Hunter and his brother Osborne stressed the need for building race character among blacks by working in the field or obtaining an industrial education.
As on the most popular social events for African Americans by the 1880s, the fairs offered opportunities for blacks to display their handiwork. However, toward the end of the annual fairs, in the late 1920s, several fairs were canceled due to a lack of financial resources and many times, whites denied use simply because for no other reason than to put a stop to the African American Industrial fair. In the beginning, the fair received a $2,000 subscription from the citizens of Raleigh to keep the fair in their city. The State legislature also provided the Association with a $500 appropriation each year. The 1882 fair, netted $8,000, however, by 1883, the Association was $20,000 in debt. The last fair took place in 1930, under the direction of Hunter. Prior to Hunter’s death, plans for the 1931 fair were underway, however when Hunter died in September of that year the planning ceased.
Kathleen Ann Clark, Defining Moments: African American Commemoration & Political Cultural in the South, 1863-1913 (Chapel Hill, 2005); Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh, 2002); Adrienne Dunn, “Charles N. Hunter and His Efforts Toward Racial Progress in North Carolina, 1870-1930,” Master Thesis, North Carolina Central University (2010); John Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1987); William Powell ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill,2006).