Essay on Effectiveness of Booker T. Washington's 1895 Speech

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George Washington University
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Dubois was right when he once said that When Booker T. Washington feels sorry for prejudice and injustice, he belittles the impact of caste differences and the ambitions of higher minds." But do we blame his great mind and aggressiveness? On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington, an American educator delivered a speech famously known as the Atlanta Compromise speech. In this address, Washington had traveled with a group of a delegation, comprising a more substantial number of the whites from Georgia to seek aid from the Congress regarding an elucidation on political and economic development in the south. Washington aimed to tell the congressional committee of the fact that from emancipation, the black people and the whites have recorded some developments regarding race relationships that should be accentuated in an explication, and to urge the support of the federal government for the event that was being held in Atlanta. Given the political and social climate of the 1890s, Washington's speech opened a dialogue between the black American and the ruling class of America to respond to the blacks' issue of what to do concerning their deplorable social and economic conditions.

Washingtons speech was aimed towards communicating the need for both the blacks and the whites to work as a team to solve the problems the black people were facing in the north. Washington stated that the options that both sides had were working together to pull the north upwards from their current state or to accept some to pick against the already recorded developments. Washington manages to communicate this message efficiently by indicating that "There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere efforts are tending to curtail the fullest growth of the black person, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. He managed to appeal to the white southerners and guaranteed the people at the meeting that he would urge blacks to seek education and gain agricultural skills, business, and mechanics. Given the outpouring of approval that followed after the speech and the offers from publishers and speech circuits, it was evident that his speech was a phenomenon one and had communicated some incredible ideas to the white southerners. Marinated in the paragons of the Protestant work morals, Washington convinces the whites by assuring them that the blacks are loyal people who believe prosperity in proportions to their hard work and as such, they should be accorded social equity as well as the benefits that would originate from consistent battle.

While Washington managed to convince the white southerners of the need to work with the blacks, he also eased the fears of the whites regarding the desires of the black people for social integration. He does so by indicating that both races can "be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." In his speech, Washington was able to call for the whites to be the ones responsible for enhancing social and economic relationships between both races. By praising the white southerners for the different opportunities they had offered the black since emancipation and urging them to continue trusting the blacks, he manages to assure the whites that if they offer them with more opportunities, the two ethnic groups could progress in the agricultural business. The fact that he counseled the blacks to remain in the south become educated, save some money and purchase properties, it made the white people believe that paternalism would not deny them their supremacy as they would still be socially separate.

Apart from easing the white's fears concerning the black's desire for social integration and the need to work together, Washingtons proposal can be seen as a representation of a black man who has changed from the old attitude. The former approach was all about adjusting and submitting but the new one adjusting but making the adjustments unique to fulfill his needs. Keeping in mind the climate in which Washington gave his speech, his proposal set terms for a discussion on programs that would help solve economic and social issues in the south. The address was received by a thunderous round of applause and a standing acclamation. Washingtons sentiments illustrated an age where the more advanced races need to embrace the less developed races. He indicated that 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. In this context, Washington sees the only way to equality at the time was to use non-violent methods. He makes logical points that if the blacks focus their energies on education, accumulating wealth and reconciliation in the south, they will achieve political power and survive in the conditions of that time. These ideas were advocated for fifteen years and became successful for ten years.

In conclusion, the Atlanta Compromise by Washington represented a strategy which managed to address the blacks people issue of being socially and economically behind. He appealed to the white southerners to partner with the blacks and assured them that the blacks would not challenge them politically. They can remain divided, but on matters that can help them develop the south, they can allow them to work together. Washingtons speech was beneficial at the time it was spoken. He removed any doubts regarding the desires of the black people for social integration and said that they only need to acquire industrial education as well as purchase properties. He does not ignore the power held by the blacks in the society to open the political floodgates to the white people who ignore the black population and make them realize that the black comprises a significant percentage of the population. Therefore, depending on how well the whites will respond, they should work with the blacks without letting racial prejudice block the advancement of the blacks.


Link, William A., and Susannah J. Link, eds. The Gilded Age and progressive era: a documentary reader. Vol. 12. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Washington, Booker T. "The Booker T." Washington papers 14 (1972): 1972-1989.

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