Booker T. Washington, “The Atlanta Exposition Address”
Washington’s goal, “As I remember it now, the thing that was uppermost in my
mind was the desire to say something that would cement the friendship of the
races and bring about hearty cooperation between them,” (1).
Washington begins his address, which is focused on
not the larger
questions of equal rights and racial transcendence, by noting that the black
population in the South is too large to be ignored if the South as a whole is to
prosper (1). Washington, in fact, implies that newly freed African-Americans
focused too much on the political, and thereby ignored the industrial and
agricultural trades that they ought have attended (1).
Washington encourages African-Americans to enrich and improve themselves by
investing in building lives and community ties within the South, not by leaving
the South, “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… 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,” (1).
Washington cautions African-Americans to be humble, and to optimistically
begin at the bottom of the ladder, “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,” (1-2).
Washington advises white people to do the same, and to seek to build ties with
their black neighbors, and claims, “Casting down your bucket among my people,
helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to