Washington came, with a simple definite programme, at the psychological moment when thenation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and wasconcentrating its energies on Dollars. His programme of industrial education, conciliation of theSouth, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights, was not wholly original; theFree Negroes from 1830 up to war-time had striven to build industrial schools, and the AmericanMissionary Association had from the first taught various trades; and Price and others had soughta way of honorable alliance with the best of the Southerners. But Mr. Washington firstindissolubly linked these things; he put enthusiasm, unlimited energy, and perfect faith into hisprogramme, and changed it from a by-path into a veritable Way of Life. And the tale of themethods by which he did this is a fascinating study of human life.It startled the nation to hear a Negro advocating such a programme after many decades ofbitter complaint; it startled and won the applause of the South, it interested and won theadmiration of the North; and after a confused murmur of protest, it silenced if it did not convertthe Negroes themselves.To gain the sympathy and cooperation of the various elements comprising the white Southwas Mr. Washington's first task; and this, at the time Tuskegee was founded, seemed, for a blackman, well-nigh impossible. And yet ten years later it was done in the word spoken at Atlanta: "Inall things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in allthings essential to mutual progress."25The Journal of Pan African Studies, 2009 eBook
This "Atlanta Compromise" is by all odds the most notable thing in Mr. Washington'scareer. The South interpreted it in different ways: the radicals received it as a complete surrenderof the demand for civil and political equality; the conservatives, as a generously conceivedworking basis for mutual understanding. So both approved it, and to-day its author is certainlythe most distinguished Southerner since Jefferson Davis, and the one with the largest personalfollowing.Next to this achievement comes Mr. Washington's work in gaining place and considerationin the North. Others less shrewd and tactful had formerly essayed to sit on these two stools andhad fallen between them; but as Mr. Washington knew the heart of the South from birth andtraining, so by singular insight he intuitively grasped the spirit of the age which was dominatingthe North. And so thoroughly did he learn the speech and thought of triumphant commercialism,and the ideals of material prosperity, that the picture of a lone black boy poring over a Frenchgrammar amid the weeds and dirt of a neglected home soon seemed to him the acme ofabsurdities. One wonders what Socrates and St. Francis of Assisi would say to this.