Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


Emancipation and Denigration: Thomas Nast Pictures Black America

January 14 - April 13, 2008
Pardon / Franchise, wood engravings, August, 1865, Harper's Week

This exhibition explores the reality of life for many African Americans in post-Civil War America as seen through the eyes of political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). Creator of such popular images as Uncle Sam and Santa Claus, Nast was one of the primary spokesmen for Abraham Lincoln, emancipation, and the end of the oppression of blacks. After the Civil War and passage of the 13th Amendment, Nast was quick to observe that new forms of official and unofficial oppression replaced slavery. The Ku Klux Klan, which had both southern and northern supporters, viciously suppressed black freedoms.  Lynchings and other atrocities occurred throughout the South. In the North discrimination was more subtle. 

While many newsmen overlooked racial oppression if it did not affect them, Nast trumpeted what he saw as evil. His large and highly visible cartoons for Harper's Weekly, which otherwise took a neutral position, attacked racial discrimination and violence.  Today, his cartoons are a reminder that for African Americans, the reality of life in America was counter the ideals embodied in the founding of the nation—that all men [sic] are created equal.

Emancipation and Denigration features 16 wood engravings by Thomas Nast from the collection of Jay G. Williams, Hamilton's Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religious Studies. This exhibition includes an audio tour produced by Nina Platt '10.