The project launched in January 1990 as an attempt to record African American life through the eyes of 50 prominent African American photographers. It was defined as an effort to deliver balanced images of African Americans in response to what was perceived by the organizers as frequently negative portrayals of the community. During the first week of June 1990, project photographers were flown across the United States to capture various aspects of African American life. From 190,000 photographs taken for the project, 200 were selected for the book.
120 of those photographs plus selected outtakes formed the basis of a highly attended international photo exhibition that opened in February 1992 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The major tour and a second, smaller "paper" tour of 60 selected photographs was sponsored by Time Warner and shown at major museums and galleries including the Museum of the City of New York, the DuSable Museum in Chicago and the Uffizi in Italy, among others. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) oversaw the international tour.
Notable contributing photographers included Pulitzer winners John H. White and Michel DuCille, Muhammad Ali photographer Howard Bingham, New York Times photographer Chester Higgins, Magnum member Eli Reed, Bob Black, Jeffrey Salter, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and others.
Film rights to a documentary based on the project were optioned by producer Quincy Jones, but never produced.