Atlanta Exposition Address

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On September 18, 1895, a profound African American leader, activist and advocator for racial equality, Booker T. Washington spoke before an integrated mass at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Although the organizers of the exposition worried that the demeanor of the public would not be prepared for such a progressive move outside of their innate social norm, they decided that inviting a black speaker would impress Northern visitors with the evidence of racial progress in the South. The “Atlanta Compromise Address”, as it came to be called, covered concerns of “uppity” blacks by claiming that the African American race would complacently live by the productions of their hands. Considered the definitive statement of what Washington termed the "accommodationist" strategy of black response to southern racial tensions, the Atlanta Exposition Address was widely regarded as one of the most significant speeches in American history. Washington's speech responded to the "Negro problem"—the question of what to do about the endless social and economic conditions of blacks and the relationship between blacks and whites in the economically shifting South. Appealing to white southerners, Washington promised his audience that he would encourage blacks to become proficient in agriculture, mechanics, commerce, and domestic service, and to encourage them to "dignify and glorify common labor”. He assured whites that blacks were loyal people who believed they would prosper in proportion to their hard work. Agitation for social equality, Washington argued, was but folly, and most blacks realized the privileges that would come from "constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing." Washington also eased many whites' fears about blacks' desire for social integration by stating that both races could "be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." Washington's speech also called for whites to take...
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