Literature Study GuidesAtlanta Exposition Speech

Atlanta Exposition Speech | Study Guide

Booker T. Washington

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Course Hero. "Atlanta Exposition Speech Study Guide." August 22, 2018. Accessed September 28, 2023.


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Booker T. Washington

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At a Glance

  • Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) was a notable African American leader of the post-Reconstruction era. In 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a school for African Americans.
  • During Reconstruction, the period following the American Civil War (1861–65), government policies focused on how to bring the 11 Southern states back into the Union and legally support the newly free African Americans.
  • After 1877, however, many Reconstruction-era reforms were rolled back in the South. Many Southern whites in positions of power were hostile to giving the African American community any political power. Black Southerners faced discriminatory Jim Crow laws, designed to preserve a state as close to slavery as possible.
  • In 1895 Booker T. Washington was one of several speakers invited by white Southerners to give opening remarks at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Washington found himself in a tricky situation, having to address an audience whose differing viewpoints were at cross-purposes.
  • In his address Washington urged black Southerners to concentrate on building themselves up economically, setting aside political and social equality for the time being. White Southerners, he said, should invest in educating and employing their black neighbors.
  • Widely praised at first, Washington's stance was soon criticized by black leaders, including scholar W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963). Du Bois referred to Washington's speech harshly, calling it "the Atlanta Compromise," which became the widely known alternate name for the speech.
  • Scholars continue to debate the relative usefulness of Washington's ideas today.


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