Black History: Special Delivery!!
On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. Though not without its critics, it is regarded as one of the most significant speeches in American history.
Washington’s speech responded to the “Negro problem”—of what should be done about the terrible socio-economic conditions under which blacks were living after emancipation; as well as the relationship between blacks and whites, particularly in the South. Washington promised his predominately white audience that he would encourage blacks to become skilled in areas such as agriculture, mechanics, commerce and domestic service. He further assured the crowd of the loyalty of the black race. Washington, seemed in the speech to take great pains to also assure the audience that blacks desire for social equality would not be forced artificially but would gradually occur over time. Washington also seemed intent to minimize the fears of whites regarding social integration. His speech seemed to imply that blacks and whites could maintain their separateness and still work together and have mutual progress.
Washington’s speech did encourage whites to take some responsibility in supporting the socio economic advancement of blacks. However, he made sure to praise the South for what he felt were opportunities they provided to blacks in the south since emancipation. Washington’s stressing a sort of shared responsibility resulted in his speech being called, “The Atlanta Compromise’. The speech was well received by those in attendance as well as other prominent African American leaders. However, some black leaders took great issue with the speech; feeling that Washington’s approach was too passive. One of Washington’s biggest critics was W.E.B Dubois.
Washington had his critics, none more vocal than another leading black educator and scholar of his day—W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois, “Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission…. [His] programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.” Dubois believed the problems of the Negro needed a different type of response. He believed blacks should be more aggressive in obtaining civil rights.The Atlanta Compromise speech was clearly Washington’s ‘answer’ for addressing the problems that blacks were now facing after emancipation. A position to which W.E.B. Dubois was staunchly opposed.
To read the speech in its entirety, click on the link below:
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