On This Day
1895 – The Atlanta Exposition Speech on race relations is delivered by Booker T. Washington.
The Cotton States and International Exposition Speech was an address on the topic of race relations given by Booker T. Washington on September 18, 1895. The speech laid the foundation for the Atlanta compromise, an agreement between African-American leaders and Southern white leaders in which Southern blacks would work meekly and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic education and due process of law.
The speech, presented before a predominantly white audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition (the site of today’s Piedmont Park) in Atlanta, Georgia, has been recognized as one of the most important and influential speeches in American history. The speech was preceded by the reading of a dedicatory ode written by Frank Lebby Stanton.
Washington began with a call to the blacks, who composed one third of the Southern population, to join the world of work. He declared that the South was where blacks were given their chance, as opposed to the North, especially in the worlds of commerce and industry. He told the white audience that rather than relying on the immigrant population arriving at the rate of a million people a year, they should hire some of the nation’s eight million blacks. He praised blacks’ loyalty, fidelity and love in service to the white population, but warned that they could be a great burden on society if oppression continued, stating that the progress of the South was inherently tied to the treatment of blacks and protection of their liberties.
He addressed the inequality between commercial legality and social acceptance, proclaiming that “The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.” Washington also promoted segregation by claiming that blacks and whites could exist as separate fingers of a hand.
The title “Atlanta Compromise” was given to the speech by W. E. B. Du Bois, who believed it was insufficiently committed to the pursuit of social and political equality for blacks.
Although the speech was not recorded at its initial presentation in 1895, Washington recorded a portion of the speech during a trip to New York in 1908. This recording has been included in the United States National Recording Registry.
Born On This Day
1858 – Kate Booth, English Salvation Army officer (d. 1955)
Catherine Booth-Clibborn (Katie Booth, 18 September 1858 – 9 May 1955) was an English Salvationist and evangelist who extended the Salvation Army into France and Switzerland against local opposition. She was the oldest daughter of William and Catherine Booth. She was also known as “la Maréchale”.
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