Friday, February 1, 2013

On the "Atlanta Compromise"

On the "Atlanta Compromise": On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington (pictured above) went from being a regional African-American educator to a national black leader, overnight. After delivering the keynote address at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition on that day, he became the de facto speaker for the African-American community in the United States. Northern white elites like Andrew Carnegie (steel magnate) donated money in droves to Washington's Tuskegee Institute while Southern whites such as Porter King (Mayor of Atlanta) praised him for advocating an accommodationist approach to racial segregation. However, not everybody approved of Washington's speech, especially Northern black elites like W. E. B. Du Bois. In effect, Du Bois felt the speech represented a relinquishment of the struggle for racial equality. It had been thirty years since the end of the Civil War and there were a variety of unfulfilled promises (Freedmen's Bureau, "40 acres and a mule", etc.) hanging over black Americans. And if Washington was choosing the "go-along-to-get-along" method of negotiation in his speech, then shrugging off second-class citizenship and attaining civil rights would become an increasingly difficult and lengthy challenge.

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