African-American Perspectives
The Progress of a People
Segregation and Violence Solving the Race Problem Contributions to the Nation

SESSION 3: Our Place in Politics | Work Among Our Women | Negro in the Wars of the Nation | Address to the Country

Session Topic
Address to the Country

Booker T. Washington's controversial address at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, September 18, 1895, argued the importance of material advancement over integration: " 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." He called agitation for social equality "the extremest folly," and assured his white audience, "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."

The New York World called Washington's speech "a revelation," "epoch-making," and a "turning point in the progress of the Negro race." It was met with "unanimous approval." President Grover Cleveland had similar praise: "I thank you with much enthusiasm for making the address...Your words cannot fail to delight and encourage all who wish well for your race..."

Black leaders were not so enthusiastic. The brilliant W.E.B. Du Bois framed the terms of a heated debate when he warned that Washington was "leading the way backward." In an influential 1903 essay, Du Bois wrote, "So far as Mr. Washington preaches thrift, patience, and industrial training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him...But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinction and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds -- so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this -- we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them."

 
Pamphlet Excerpt
from "An Address Delivered at the Opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition" by Booker T. Washington

.WAV format   |   Entire Pamphlet

Audio Transcription:

Our greatest danger is, that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands...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...To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, "Cast down your bucket where you are...Cast down your bucket among these people who have...tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities...As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.


SESSIONS: Segregation and Violence | Solving the Race Problem | Contributions to the Nation

 
The Progress of a People

African-American Perspectives