Thursday, October 4, 2012

Booker T. Washington - The Atlanta Compromise Speech (1895)


Booker T. Washington: Mr. President and gentlemen of the Board of Directors and citizens. One third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest success. I must convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, and Secretaries and masses of my race, when I say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized, than by the managers of this magnificent exposition at every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom. Not only this, but the opportunities here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial progress.


Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of the bottom, that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill, that the political convention of some teaching had more attraction than starting a dairy farm or a stockyard.

A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.


To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preservating 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, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.

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 have said to my own race: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your fireside. Cast down your bucket among these people who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, just to make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.


18 comments:

  1. Wow! What a servile speech. WEBD did not object to BTW's self help schemes,The difference between them was over what price to pay for the "privilege" to have to "... without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, just to make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South." Being a sensible man, WEBD wanted political rights to go with the right to work.

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    1. I respectfully disagree with this as a "servile speech." The broader lesson from the "Cast Down Your Bucket Speech," illustrates to local nature of politics and solutions. Instead of throwing spit-balls at the President, Cast Down Your Bucket LOCALLY. National political solutions, by its nature, compromises to a virtually meaningless consensual public policy. In that, what is needed in the Mississippi Delta does not necessarily translate to Harlem, Detroit, Atlanta or Oakland. There isn't a "big man" solution. It takes organizing your local community to affect change from the bottom-up, instead of the top-down.

      Furthermore, we need to change the CONJUNCTION. It's not EITHER OR, but AND BOTH. After one-hundred years, of this folly you'd think that we as a people would grow beyond the tribalism of EITHER OR, into a more communicably AND BOTH. Why do we hem ourselves into a rigid corner? We have the hindsight of history to cherry pick and top skim the best of ALL worlds. There were really at leas three competing ideologies -- Booker T., W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey. Instead of being ego driven partitions, they could have created a more fluid paradigm like that of a Venn diagram. Build a coalition of the "Intersections" instead of drawing hard lines on the "Partitions." [Okay, I'm assuming that you understand the basic concept of a Venn diagram -- if my mathematical models get too wonky let me know].

      Black people get themselves all knotted-up in this crazy tribal game. It was Martin vs. Malcolm, or Booker T. vs. DuBois, or A. Philip Randolph vs. Marcus Garvey .... it just goes on and on and on like a broken record. One day, and I'm not even sure of when, we'll grow beyond the pettiness of the personalities.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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    2. BTW's binary "assimilation-accommodation" quid quo pro was not about personality. Instead, it must be acknowledged ,as a testimonial to the manumitted, "neutered-nigga" politics that polluted the "divina particular aurae" "fresh, sparkling river water". Thus, it was towards the "in-between-ness" of the binary Jim Crow order (the Tuskegee / buffer class terrain) that BTW intended his Atlanta Compromise talk to resonate.

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  2. Ron, let me respectfully suggest you take up standup comedy as a sideline. Your "mathematical models" as you call it smack of grade school math. You ought to look up the meaning of servile again because if you really believe that the essence of that speech is a call for Black self help you haven't heard nor read it properly. I would call the speech the despoil us speech. In essence that worthy gentleman was saying to the assembled plutocrats: Why exploit Whites from foreign shores with their nonsense about trade union rights and socialism when you can continue to despoil us as you've done so successfully in the past. This is what you admire? I thought you were a serious thinker, now I'm not so sure. You manage to reduce serious tensions within the Black community to ego driven tribal nonsense. Sorry but you missed the point, as I said before Dubois had no objection to Washington's political patronage machine. He tought that Mr. Washington's poverty pimp bus, as you would put it, was fine as far as it went but was insufficient to take Blacks to full citizenship. You make a big deal out of local solutions, What was the local solution for ending slavery? voting rights? elimination of the disparity in Federal sentences for crack versus powdered cocaine. etc. You condemn what you practice because you are using local concerns in order not to deal with national ones.

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    1. First and foremost you have to put 1896 into prospective. The USA was experiencing one of the worst economic downturns that started in 1893 and lasted to 1898.

      Now I'm going to insert a Ron Theory of Blackbacklash or rabid Negrophobia. It seems to be historically documented that WHENEVER a STRUCTURAL economic downturn occurs, coupled with black people obtaining ANY MEASURE of political empowerment, then the aggrieved white Americans tend to scapegoat blacks for their misery. It's certainly NOT the fault of the plutocrats who empty the national treasure into their bank accounts, or the bought and sold politicians who write the laws that make their poverty profiteering perfectly legal, never the oligarchs who control industry …. it's ALWAYS the lowest hanging fruit on the economic tree, black people.

      Okay, back to 1896. Before the Great Depression in 1930's this era marked the FIRST Great Depression in the USA. I'm not an apologist for Mr. Booker T., I have had an ongoing hate-hate-hate-love-hate-hate-hate-love-hate-hate-love relationship with Mr. Booker T. for a long, long time. But, the economy was tanking, and had been for nearly a decade. If you remember your world history, the Cotton Kings of the South were in direct competition with India and Egypt now. At the dawn of the Civil War cotton and its related industries comprised 80% of the GDP in the USA. Furthermore, US Slave grown cotton also commanded nearly 80% of the WORLDWIDE market – the southern planters had a virtual monopoly on cotton. But, in 1896 Great Britain's cotton is supplied by her Imperial Colonies of India and Egypt.

      Europe pulled out investments in the USA. Remember this was the height of the South African gold rush, the Scramble for Africa when eighty percent of Africa was divided among the nations of Europe.

      There were 100 reported lynchings in 1896. In every former Confederate States, the Confederate Democrats were back in power. The federal troops left the South in 1876, so blacks had ABSOLUTELY no protection and no government protection. The “fusion governments” like those in Wilmington, NC would be soon overtaken by the former Confederate officers. These were bleak times. It is hard to even imagine living in a country that had ZERO safety nets, nothing. No sanitation standards, no food standards, no work standards … frontier justice.

      The ONLY “friend” that a Southern blacks had were the former slave owners. Yes, the planter plutocrats. They called them the “Big Mules.” Those planters ALWAYS recognized the value of black plantation labor. So, Booker T. Washington made a deal with these devils. They would protect their plantation labor and his school.

      Booker T. Washington gets WAY too much blame for the disenfranchisement of the black race. He didn't write the law; he didn't adjudicate the laws; he didn't sign the bills into law. Likewise about the whole Jim Crow Apartheid. The Apartheid Laws that were affectionately called “Jim Crow” did not originate in the South. These were NORTHERN Black Codes (mostly form the former French Colonies/Louisiana Purchase Code Noir) …. The Northern Black Codes were just “cut and pasted” onto racist legislation in the South. If my memory serves me correctly, I think the first one was the Mississippi Plan that was crafted by President Andrew Johnson.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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  3. "First and foremost you have to put 1896 into prospective." Ron I think you meant to say you have to put 1896 into perspective. Let me get this straight, because there was a depression it made sense for BTW to offer Blacks as scabs. How would that have ameliorated their condition? In a depression it is the plutocrat's job to reduce the part of the income going to the help, so Blacks would have to take much less than not only what Whites got but less than they used to get in better times. Despoliation is what I call it. I don't see what there is to love in that. I understand that romantics like you don't believe in class struggle but it is a fact of social life.

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    1. I haven't even read past the first two sentences in your post and already you've insulted ALL black working men and women who were EXCLUDED from joining unions by calling them "SCABS". One can't be a SCAB if one is SHUTOUT of the union. I'm slapping the table and calling bullspit!

      Don't even get me started with the racist history of the labor movement in the USA. The American Federation of Labor was a WHITE MAN's UNION. It wasn't until the the CIO and A. Philip Randolph came on line that black workers were even ACCEPTED IN UNIONS. SCAB my a$$. Let the truth be told, most unions were started as a way to keep black men in crappy a$$ menial jobs.

      The history of labor is ALSO a nasty history of discrimination. There would NEVER be black strike breakers IF they were unionized and compensated equally. Racism and sexism represent the labor union's fatal flaw.

      I'll go back and finish reading your comment.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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    2. Man oh man, maybe you can spell, but you sure do miss the overarching point.

      The point is that Booker T. was trying to ameliorate the acceleration of racial violence. Black folks in the South were catching pure unadulterated Hell. And let the truth be told, the North wasn't really any better. There wasn't a government -- local, state, or federal -- that gave a flying crap about the widespread white violence against black people. It wasn't just lynchings. There were bombings, arson, poisoning water supplies, killing livestock, rape, kidnapping, incarceration, flagrancy laws, cheating, etc. The black man lived under Dred Scott justice -- blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."

      No hyperbolic language here. The prison industrial complex bought, sold, rented and profited from black convict labor; the sharecropper system indebted blacks to a quasi serf/peon status. Even FDR's New Deal EXCLUDED the black laboring class AND PAID the white landlords for NOT GROWING CROPS so black labor was evicted wholesale from their sharecropper/slave shacks on to the open road without one penny of compensation.

      The planter plutocrats KNEW that the black farmers were SKILLED labor and they could bring in the cotton crops that could compete with Egypt and India. Why the heck do you think that black people were STILL growing, picking and harvesting cotton until the 1960's.

      The black folks did not have any protection from white vigilantism. Their ONLY protection was the wealthy planter caste. I know you can't find this in history textbooks, but with black history you HAVE to read Between the lines.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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  4. Ron, it pains me to say this but your writing is poor, it's heavy on emotions and light on analysis. You cannot mean what you wrote: "The point is that Booker T. was trying to ameliorate the acceleration of racial violence."!? He was trying to improve the acceleration of racial violence, by offering to sell Black labor at an ever declining sliding scale? Why would any sane Black man want to improve the acceleration of racial violence? You can't possibly believe your Big Mules as the true friends of Blacks argument. If you do please tell me who's plantations were being worked by Black convict labor. Who turned out Black sharecroppers without a dime?
    How do you account for the success of the CIO and Randolph in the 1930's, did Whites magically turn into angels? I seem to recall that those vile commies you execrate so much had a great deal to do with it. It never entered my head to blame BTW for Jim Crow I found his speech shameful because it compares badly with the reaction of such sterling characters such as Ida Wells, Trotter and WEBD.

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    1. Sorry to disappoint you on my writing. But, YES, I did mean to say "ameliorate the acceleration of racial violence." The trajectory of racial violence was indeed escalating and there were no checks on that violence. Mob violence ruled nation -- Wilmington, North Carolina (1898), East St. Louis (1917), Chicago, Springfield -- In 1919 there were 25 massacres of blacks by whites in places like Omaha, NB; Rosewood, FL; Atlanta, GA; Washington, DC; Longview, TX; Knoxville, TN; Elaine, AK; Charleston, SC; Bisbee, AZ; Norfolk, VA; Philadelphia, PA; Scranton, PA; Memphis, TN -- you get my point. And it didn't even end in 1919, because Tulsa went up in flames in 1921. Some historians call this time frame the "nadir" of race relations. You could call old Booker T. a lot of names, but one of them isn't "stupid." I'm sure he peeped this trend.

      If you've ever spent any time combing the archival newspapers, then you should read T. Thomas Fortune (a former slave and aligned with Booker T. and Marcus Garvey). T. Thomas Fortune seems to be lost in the dustbin of history, but he was quite prescient with his predictions of the escalation of racial violence and the 100 year disenfranchisement of black voters.

      So, yes, I meant what I said. If you have the foresight to see an upcoming disaster, and you really can't stop said disaster, then you need to try to minimize the damage of the pending disaster. Obviously sanctuary for blacks was nonexistent. Racialized mob violence occurred North, South, East, and West.

      Now, the Big Mules as "friends" ... notice the quotation marks around the term .... Unfortunately, they were the only "friends" the black Southerners had. FDR's New Deal Policies that coincided with the mechanization of farming and the Dust Bowl would not become law for another 40 years from Booker T.'s speech.

      Perhaps my writing is shoddy, but at least I know a thing or two about history. The Big Mules didn't rely upon convict slave labor, they were the older more established planters. The convicts were leased to the Railroad companies, mining companies, lumber companies, pine-tar, etc. Slaves or unfree labor worked in a variety of places and spaces. Urban slavery differed from plantation slavery; established slave societies like New Orleans, South Carolina and Virginia were not like frontier slavery in Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri.

      Sometimes it's all about survival. Just to live to see another day. The Big Mules provided: food, shelter, clothing (albeit burlap sackcloth) and protection from the Knight Riders. That's about as good as it gets sometimes.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

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  5. Anonymous October 8, 2012 1:41 PM

    Ron, it pains me to say this but your writing is poor, it's heavy on emotions and light on analysis. You cannot mean what you wrote: "The point is that Booker T. was trying to ameliorate the acceleration of racial violence."!? He was trying to improve the acceleration of racial violence, by offering to sell Black labor at an ever declining sliding scale? Why would any sane Black man want to improve the acceleration of racial violence? You can't possibly believe your Big Mules as the true friends of Blacks argument. If you do please tell me whose plantations were being worked by Black convict labor. Who turned out Black sharecroppers without a dime?
    How do you account for the success of the CIO and Randolph in the 1930's, did Whites magically turn into angels? I seem to recall that those vile commies you execrate so much had a great deal to do with it. It never entered my head to blame BTW for Jim Crow I found his speech shameful because it compares badly with the reaction of such sterling characters such as Ida Wells, Trotter and WEBD.

    ReplyDelete
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