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#30 African American man is first to “Compromise” in the South


This is part two of the blogs about the Great Compromises in September 1850 and 1895 that impacted African Americans.

“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, 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.”

(Address of Booker T. Washington…opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition.” Atlanta, Ga., September 18, 1895. African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division)

It was one of the hottest days under the Atlanta, Georgia sun when a tall, bony man introduced as “Professor Booker T. Washington” entered the front of the platform and looked out over a packed audience of whites and Blacks who were awaiting the opening of the market exchanges. It was September 18, 1895, in the segregated South. The long-anticipated Cotton States and International Exposition opened for the purpose to showcase Southern agricultural and mechanical products to global countries. Washington was introduced – a man born a slave on a Virginia plantation. He was poised to make history that day as the first African American to speak to an audience of different races in a Southern location.   (Today in History – September 18 | Library of Congress (

Washington was described by a correspondent of the New York World   as “straight as a Sioux chief, high forehead, heavy jaws … strong, determined … piercing eyes, and a commanding manner…” who captured the spotlight with his speech that is known as the “Atlanta Compromise.”

http://1895 Cotton States Exposition Poster (

Transcribed Excerpts from Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Speech, September 18, 1895:

… A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water; we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time the signal, “Water, water; send us water!” ran up from the distressed vessel and was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” And a third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River. 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,” extorted the founding President of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

When Washington finished, it was reported that loud cheers and applause complimented his remarks.

http://Alabama Hall, Tuskegee Institute, Ala. c1906. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Washington’s critics viewed the orator and educator’s remarks as controversial since his more than 10-minute speech advised African Americans to accept their unequal positions in society, disengage in political matters, and use their God-given talents and brawn to achieve economic freedom. He was vocal against protesting. He was known to have dined with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who sought his advice on race issues along with President William Howard Taft.

Washington was considered the most important Negro of his time, and it was not limited to racial lines. Honorary degrees were bestowed upon him by Dartmouth College and Harvard University. Washington wrote 14 books, including the widely popular, Up From Slavery, and he remained an advocate of industrial education until his death at the age of 59 in 1915.  He believed in “separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” 

Washington’s words spoken during the Cotton States Exposition were remembered mainly as a concession to the tensions at a fever pitch between Whites and Blacks in the Southern states.

The Uncompromised DuBois response

The man who was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University, W.E.B. DuBois, was the so-called black elite who vehemently opposed Washington’s views.  He rejected the segregated Jim Crow-era beliefs such as African Americans’ focus on social and political rights would be achieved by being quiet and not causing any public protests.

http://Portrait of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, July 18, 1946. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

DuBois passionately challenged Washington’s beliefs and words. DuBois espoused immediate political and intellectual empowerment. In 1905, DuBois organized an “anti-Bookerite” movement. Four years later, DuBois’ and his followers joined White liberals and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP battled racial injustice through the legal system. He says it lowers expectations for African Americans.

He did not believe that African Americans should be told by Washington that they are inferior.  DuBois believed the opposite, and he put forth his “Talented Tenth” idea that was adopted by many organizations and universities, including Atlanta University.

http://The new south reformers day 3 show (

In the next Good Genes Genealogy Services’ September 2021 e-book, read the combined Parts One and Two about the great “Compromises” impacting African Americans. Both occurred in September.

Your assignment: How do you view today’s differences among leaders within the same political parties, ethnic groups, and other organizations? What are the pros and cons raised in the continuing great debate between DuBois and Washington?