.. e in favor of cooperation. In Atlanta, Georgia in 1883 Washington said In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. This would become known as the Atlanta Compromise and denounced Washington’s emphasis of vocational over intellectual development. In 1895 Washington was invited to speak at The Cotton States Convention in Atlanta to help represent the south a desirable location for future financial investment.
They wanted him to create this picture with the image of racial harmony. Washington saw this as a chance comment on racial relations as well as to advance the status of his people. Washington says that the Negro should not be deprived by unfair means of the franchise, political agitation alone would not save him, and that to back the ballot he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character, and that no race without these elements could permanately succeed. His speech was based on two graphic images. The first image he used was of a ship at sea without any fresh water. It signaled a passing ship that it needed fresh water.
When they pulled their buckets back up they didn’t find what they expected. Instead of finding salt water as they had expected, the buckets were filled with fresh water from the Amazon. Washington used this analogy to suggest that the situation between whites and blacks could improve if they would begin where they were at. He states: To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are, cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded. Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions.
And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man’s chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance. Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
The second image he used was that of a hand. He pointed out that while the hand was one, the fingers were separate. He suggested that national unity and social segregation could go together. Washington then turned to the whites in the audience and urged them to start where they were in building national prosperity and racial unity. He said: To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides.
Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, built your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. . .
. so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. This proposal brought forth a thunderous applause. He felt that the wisest of his race were aware that fighting for social equality was a folly. The ex-slave must prepare himself for the assumption of his rights, which were privileges to be earned.
The Atlanta Compromise was a means to an end and not an end in itself. If an ex-slave could start at the bottom and develop manners and friendliness, Washington believed that he could earn his rights. He felt that the individual Afro-Americans would gain trust, acceptance, and respect. The class line based on the color of ones skin would be replaced by ones intelligence and morality. At the conclusion of the speech the audience applauded wildly.
After reading the speech, President Cleveland wrote Washington and thanked him for what he had said. The next year Washington was honored at Harvard University with an honorary master’s degree. As Washington’s influence with whites and blacks grew he was able to reap the benefits. In 1901 he wrote Up From Slavery which was a best selling autobiography. He also became an advisor for President Theodore Roosevelt.
He was the first black man ever to dine in the White House with the President. Eventually Washington’s leadership of blacks began to decline. It had become apparent that the white people of the south had gained control after the reconstruction and never wanted the civil and political status of the blacks to improve. There was also the problem of growing black and white liberal opposition in the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. These groups were demanding civil rights and encouraging protests in response to white aggressions such as lynching, disfranchisement, and segregation laws.
Washington was initially able to fend off these critics often by underhanded means. At the same time, however, he was able to translate his own personal success into black advancement through secret sponsorship of civil rights cases, serving on boards at Fisk and Howard Universities, and directing philanthropic aid to these and other black colleges. Washington presided over Tuskegee until his death on November 14, 1915. He had written 12 books, the most famous being, Up From Slavery. He sat for dinners with the President of the United Stated, royalty of Europe, as well as most of the industrial powerhouses of his time.
He was an intelligent man trying to what he felt was best for his people. Which was to provide them with the chance to get an education to better themselves and help them to lead commendable lives. Washington did not think it was possible to take a race that had been held as slaves for generations and set them free and expect them to be equal to their former masters. It is impossible to sum up what Washington thought about race relation and the education of African Americans without using his own words from The Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, in Atlanta on September 18, 1895: Progress in the enjoyment of all privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than artificial forcing…it is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than an opportunity to spend a dollar at an opera house. WORKS CITED Washington, Booker T.
Up From Slavery, an autobiography. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday. Louis R. Harlan, Booker T Washington, 2 vols. (1972, 1983), with Raymond W. Smock, eds., The Booker T Washington Papers, 12 vols.
(1972-): August Meier, Negro Thoughts in America, 1880-1915 (1963). History Essays.