Table of Contents
The Story of My Life & Work by Booker T. Washington
Chapter: 10 Atlanta Exposition
So much has been said and written concerning the address which I delivered at the opening of the Atlanta Exposition in September, 1895, that it may not be out of place for me to explain in some detail how and why I received the invitation to deliver this address.
In the spring of 1895 I received a telegram at
Tuskegee from prominent citizens in Atlanta, asking me to accompany a committee composed of Atlanta
people,--all white, I think, except Bishop Gaines and Bishop Grant,--to Washington to appear before the
Committee on Appropriations for the purpose of inducing Congress to make an
appropriation to help forward the Exposition which the citizens of Atlanta were at that time planning to hold. I
accepted this invitation and went to Washington with the committee. A number of the white people in the
delegation spoke, among them the Mayor and other officials of Atlanta, and then Bishop Gaines and Bishop
Grant were called upon. My name was last, I think, on the list of speakers. I had never before appeared
before such a committee, or made any address in the capitol of the Nation, and I had many misgivings as to
what I should say and the impression I would make. While I cannot recall my speech, I remember that I tried
to impress upon the Committee with all the earnestness and plainness of language that I could, that if Congress
wanted to help the South do something that would rid it of the race problem and make friends between the two
races it should in every way encourage the material and intellectual growth of both races, and that the Atlanta
Exposition would present an opportunity for both races to show what they had done in the way of development
since freedom, and would at the same time prove a great encouragement to both races to make still greater
progress. I tried to emphasize the fact that political agitation alone would not save the Negro, that back of
politics he must have industry, thrift, intelligence and property; that no race without these elements of strength
could permanently succeed and gain the respect of its fellow citizens, and that the time had now come when
Congress had an opportunity to do something for the Negro and the South that would prove of real and lasting
benefit, and that I should be greatly disappointed if it did not take advantage of the opportunity. I spoke for fifteen
or twenty minutes and was very much surprised at the close of my address
to receive the hearty congratulations and thanks of all the members of the Atlanta delegation, as well as the
members of the Committee on Appropriations. I will not prolong the story, except to add that the Committee did
pass the resolution unanimously, agreeing to report a bill to Congress in the interest of the Atlanta Exposition. Our
work, however, did not end with making these addresses before the Committee. We remained in Washington
several days. The Atlanta committee had meetings every day and the colored members were invited to these, and
were given a free opportunity to express their views. Certain members of Congress were parceled out to each
member of the Atlanta committee to see, and we spent some time in convincing as many individual members of
Congress as possible of the justness of Atlanta's claim. We called in a body upon Speaker Thomas B. Reed. This
was the first time I had ever had the pleasure of shaking hands with this great American; since then I have come
to know him well and am greatly indebted to him for many kindnesses. After we had spent some time in Washington
in hard effort in the interest of the bill, it was called up in Congress and was passed with very little opposition. From
the moment that the bill passed Congress the success of the Atlanta Exposition was assured.
Float--representing Tinning Department passed in parade on occasion of
Bird's-Eye View of some of the floats at Tuskegee Institute,
Soon after we made this trip to Washington, the directors of the Atlanta Exposition decided that it was the proper thing to give the colored people of the country every opportunity possible to show, by a separate exhibit, to what progress they had attained since their freedom. To this end the directors decided to erect a large and commodious building to be known as the Negro Building. This building in size, architectural beauty and general finish was fully equal to the other buildings on the grounds. It was entirely constructed by colored labor and was filled with the products of Negro skill, brains, and handicraft.
After it was decided to have a separate Negro exhibit it became quite a question as to the best manner of securing a representative and large exhibit from the race. I, in connection with prominent colored citizens of Georgia, was consulted on a good many occasions by the directors of the exposition. It was finally decided to appoint a Negro commissioner to represent each Southern State, who should have charge of collecting and installing the exhibit from his state. After these state commissioners were appointed, a meeting of them was called in Atlanta for the purpose of organization and forming plans to further the Negro exhibit. At the joint meeting of these State Commissioners, it was decided that a Chief Commissioner to have the general supervision of all the exhibits should be selected. A good many people insisted that I should accept the position of Chief Commissioner. I declined to permit my name to be used for this purpose, because my duties at Tuskegee would not permit me to give the time and thought to it that the position demanded. I did, however, accept the position of Commissioner for the State of Alabama. After a good deal of discussion, Mr. I. Garland Penn, of Lynchburg, Virginia, was selected by the Commissioners, and this choice was made unanimous. The success of the Negro exhibit was in a very large measure due to the energy and fidelity of Mr. Penn. No one who voted for him, I think, ever had reason to regret doing so. Most of the states, especially the Southern States, including the District of Columbia, had very creditable exhibits--exhibits that in many cases surprised not only the Negro race but the white people as well. I think the class of people who were most surprised when they went into the Negro Building were some of the Southern white people who, while they had known the Negro as a field hand and as a servant, and had seen him on the streets, had not been in any large degree into his homes and school-houses. At this Exposition, they had, I believe, the first general opportunity to see for themselves the real progress that the Negro was making in the most vital things of life, and it was very interesting as well as satisfactory to hear their constant exclamations of surprise and gratification as they walked through the Negro Building.
The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute made a special effort to prepare a large and creditable exhibit, and in this the institution was most successful. The Tuskegee exhibit consisted of all forms of agricultural products, various articles made in the shops, such as two-horse wagons, one-horse wagons, single and double carriages, harness, shoes, tinware, products from the sewing rooms, laundry, printing office, and academic work, in fact all of the twenty-six industries in operation at Tuskegee were well and creditably represented. With the exception of the exhibit from the Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va., Tuskegee had the largest exhibit in the Negro Building.
As the day for the opening of the Exposition began to draw near, the Board of Directors began to prepare their programme for the opening day. A great many suggestions were made as to the kind of exercises that should be held on that day and as to the names of the speakers to take part. As the discussion went on from day to day, Mr. I. Garland Penn was bold enough to suggest to the Commissioners that, as the Negroes were taking such a prominent part in trying to make the Exposition a success, it was due them that they should have some representation on the programme on the opening day. This suggestion by Mr. Penn was discussed for several days by the Board of Directors, none, however, seeming to have any great objection to it,-- the only objection being that they feared it might bring upon the Exposition hurtful criticism. The Board, however, finally voted to ask some Negro to deliver an address at the opening of the Exposition. Several names were suggested, but in some manner, largely I think due to Mr. Penn, my name was selected by the Board, and in due time I received an official communication from the President of the Exposition inviting me to deliver this address. It was the middle of August when I received this invitation. The Exposition was to open on the 18th of September. The papers throughout the country began at once discussing the action of the Board of Directors in inviting a Negro to speak, most of the newspaper comments, however, being favorable.
The delicacy and responsibility of my position in this matter can be appreciated when it is known that this was the first time in the history of the South that a Negro had been invited to take part on a programme with white Southern people on any important and national occasion. Our race should not neglect to give due credit to the courage that these Atlanta men displayed in extending this invitation; but the directors had told the Negroes from the beginning that they would give them fullest and freest opportunity to represent themselves in a creditable manner at every stage of the progress of the Exposition, and from the first day to the last this promise was kept.
The invitation to deliver this address came at a time when I am very busy every year preparing for the opening of the new school year at Tuskegee, and this made it quite difficult for me to find time in which to concentrate my thoughts upon the proper preparation of an important address, but the great reponsibility which had been entrusted to me weighed very heavily on me from day to day. I knew that what I said would be listened to by Southern white people, by people of my own race and by Northern white people. I was determined from the first not to say anything that would give undue offense to the South and thus prevent it from thus honoring another Negro in the future. And at the same time I was equally determined to be true to the North and to the interests of my own race. As the 18th of September drew nearer, the heavier my heart became and the more I felt that my address would prove a disappointment and a failure. I prepared myself, however, as best I could. After preparing the address I went through it carefully, as I usually do with important utterances, with Mrs. Washington, and she approved of what I intended to say. On the 16th of September, the day before I started for Atlanta, as several of the teachers had expressed a desire to hear my address, I consented to read it to them in a body. When I had done so and heard their criticisms I felt more encouraged, as most of them seemed to be very much pleased with it.
On the morning of September 17, 1895, together with Mrs. Washington, Portia, Baker and Davidson, my children, I started for Atlanta. On the way to the depot from the school, in passing through Tuskegee, I happened to meet a white farmer who lived some distance in the country, and he in a rather joking manner said to me, "Washington, you have spoken with success before Northern white audiences, and before Negroes in the South, but in Atlanta you will have to speak before Northern white people, Southern white people and Negroes altogether. I fear they have got you into a pretty tight place." This farmer diagnosed the situation most accurately, but his words did not add to my comfort at that time. On the way to Atlanta I was constantly surprised by having both colored and white people come to the cars, stare at me and point me out, and discuss in my hearing what was to take place the next day. In Atlanta we were met by a committee of colored citizens. The first thing I heard when I stepped from the cars in Atlanta was this remark by an old colored man near by: "That's the man that's gwine to make that big speech out at the Exposition tomorrow." We were taken to our boarding place by the committee and remained there until the next morning. Atlanta was literally packed at that time with people from all parts of the country, including many military and other organizations. The afternoon papers contained in large head lines a forecast of the next day's proceedings. All of this tended to add to the burden that was pressing heavily upon me.
On the morning of the day that the Exposition opened, a committee of colored citizens called at my boarding place to escort me to the point where I was to take my place in the procession which was to march to the Exposition grounds. In this same procession was Bishop W. J. Gaines, Rev. H. H. Proctor and other prominent colored citizens of Atlanta. What also added to the interest of this procession was the appearance of several colored military organizations which marched in the same procession with the white organizations. It was very noticeable that in the arrangement of the line of march the white officers who had control of the procession seemed to go out of their way to see that all of the colored people in the procession were properly placed and properly treated. The march through the streets out to the Exposition grounds occupied two or three hours, and, as the sun was shining disagreeably hot, when I got to the Exposition I felt rather fagged out, and very much feared that my address was going to prove a complete failure.
As I now recall, the only colored persons who had seats on the platform were Mr. I. Garland Penn, the Negro Commissioner, and myself, though of course there were hundreds of colored people in the audience. When I took my place on the platform the colored portion of the audience cheered vigorously, and there were faint cheers from some of the white people. Ex-Governor Bullock, of Atlanta, presided at the opening exercises. The audience room, which was very large and well suited for public speaking, was packed with humanity from bottom to top, and thousands were on the outside who could not get in.
A white gentleman who resides in the North and is one of my best friends, happened to be in Atlanta on the day that the Exposition opened. He was so nervous about the kind of reception I would receive at the hands of the audience and the effect my speech would produce that he could not bear to go into the building, but walked around the building on the outside until the exercises were over.
Gilmore's famous band played several stirring and patriotic airs, after which Gov. Bullock arose and delivered a short opening address and then the speaking occurred in the following order:
Opening address, Hon. Chas. A. Collier, President International Cotton States Exposition Company; address on behalf of the Woman's Department, Mrs. Joseph Thompson, President; address tendering Negro exhibit, Booker T. Washington; address on behalf of the State, His Excellency, Governor Atkinson; address on behalf of the city, Hon. Porter King ; oration of the day, Judge Emory Speer.
After his introduction, when I arose to speak, there was considerable cheering in the audience, especially from the section of the room occupied by my own people. The sun was shining brightly in my face and I had to move about a good deal on the platform so as to reach a position that would enable me to escape the rays of the sun. I think the thing at the present time that I am most conscious of is that I saw thousands of eyes looking intently into my face. From the moment I was introduced until the end of my address I seemed to have entirely forgotten myself. The following is the address which I delivered:
"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 but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of the 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 opportunity 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 at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the State Legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden.
"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, water; send us water!' ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered: 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' And 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 cultivating 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 in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.
Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance. 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, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. 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. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
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 it down among the 8,000,000 Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. 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, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and, with education of head, hand and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. 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.
"There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed--'blessing him that gives and him that takes.'
"There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:
"Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upwards, or they will pull against you the load downwards. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.
"Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at an exhibition of our progress, you must not expect overmuch. Starting thirty years ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts and pumpkins and chickens (gathered from miscellaneous sources), remember the path that has led from these to the invention and production of agricultural implements, buggies, steam engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, the management of drug stores and banks, has not been trodden without contact with thorns and thistles. While we take pride in what we exhibit as a result of our independent efforts, we do not for a moment forget that our part in this exhibition would fall far short of your expectations but for the constant help that has come to our educational life, not only from the Southern States, but especially from Northern philanthropists, who have made their gifts a constant stream of blessing and encouragement.
"The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of those privileges. 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.
"In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has given us more hope and encouragement, and drawn us so near to you of the white race, as this opportunity offered by the Exposition; and here bending, as it were, over the altar that represents the results of the struggles of your race and mine, both starting practically empty-handed three decades ago, I pledge that, in your effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South, you shall have at all times the patient, sympathetic help of my race; only let this be constantly in mind that, while from representations in these buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that let us pray God will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth."
Some days after my speech in Atlanta at the opening of the Exposition I received the following letter from Dr. Gilman, President of Johns Hopkins University, who was chairman of the committee of jurors in connection with the Exposition:
"JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY,
"DEAR MR. WASHINGTON:--
"Would it be agreeable to you to be one of the judges of Award in the Department of Education at Atlanta? If so, I shall be glad to place your name upon the list.
Yours very truly,
D. C. GILMAN.
"A line by telegraph will be welcomed."
I was more surprised to receive this invitation to act on the board of jurors than to receive the invitation to speak at the opening of the Exposition, for it became a part of my duty as one of the jurors not only to pass on the exhibits from Negro schools but those from the white schools as well, throughout the country. I accepted this position and spent a month in Atlanta in connection with my duties as one of the jurors. The board was a large one, consisting in all of sixty members, including such well known persons as Dr. D. C. Gilman, of Johns Hopkins University; Dr. I. S. Hopkins, secretary of the jury and president of the Georgia School of Technology ; General Henry Abbott, United States engineer ; President C. K. Adams, president of the University of Wisconsin; President Charles W. Dabney, of the University of Tennessee; Miss Grace Dodge, of New York; Dr. Charles Mohr, an expert in forestry; Mr. Gofford Pinchot, Biltmore, N. C.; Professor Ira Remsen, editor of the American journal of Chemistry; Professor Eugene A. Smith, state geologist of Alabama; Professor C. P. Vanderford, of the University of Tennessee, and others equally prominent.
When the section of jurors on education met for organization, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, the Southern author, who was a member of the board, made a motion that I be made secretary of the section on education. This motion was carried without a dissenting vote. Nearly half of the board of jurors were Southern men. We were quite intimately associated together for a month, and during this time our association was most pleasant and cordial in every respect. In performing my duty in connection with the inspection of the exhibits from the various white institutions, in each instance I was treated with the greatest respect. At the close of our labors a large photograph of the group of jurors was taken. We parted from each other with the greatest regret.
In making up their awards the board of jurors awarded but three gold medals to institutions of learning. The Tuskegee school received one of the three. As I was a member of the board I insisted that Tuskegee should not be permitted to compete for a medal, but I was overruled in this, and the medal given, regardless of my protests. The exhibit which the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute made, except that from the Hampton Institute, was the largest and most comprehensive in the Negro Building.
I will let the newspaper war correspondent who was at that time in Atlanta as a representative of the New York World relate the impression my speech seemed to make. He wrote the following for the World:
"Mrs. Thompson, head of the Women's Department, had scarcely taken her seat, when all eyes were turned on a tall, tawny Negro sitting in the front row on the platform. It was Prof. Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee (Ala.) Normal and Industrial Institute, who must rank from this time forth as the foremost man of his race in America. Gilmore's band played the 'Star Spangled Banner,' and the audience cheered. The tune was changed to 'Dixie,' and the audience roared with shrill ki-yi's. Again the music changed to 'Yankee Doodle,' and the clamor lessened.
"All this time the eyes of thousands looked straight at the Negro orator. A strange thing was to happen. A black man was to speak for his people with none to interrupt him. As Prof. Washington strode toward the edge of the stage, the low, descending sun shot fiery rays through the window into his face. A great shout greeted him. He turned his head to avoid the blinding light, and moved about the platform for relief. Then he turned his powerful countenance to the sun, without a blink of the eyelids, and began to talk.
"There was a remarkable figure, tall, bony, straight as a Sioux chief, high forehead, straight nose, heavy jaws, and strong, determined mouth, with big white teeth, piercing eyes, and a determined manner. The sinews stood out on his bronzed neck, and his muscular right arm swung high in the air, with a lead pencil grasped in the clenched brown fist. His big feet were planted squarely, with the heels together and the toes turned out. His voice rang out clear and true, and he paused impressively as he made each point. Within ten minutes the multitude was in an uproar of enthusiasm, handkerchiefs waved, canes flourished, hats tossed in the air. The fairest women in Georgia stood up and cheered. It was as if the orator had bewitched them.
"And when he held his dusky hand high above his head, with his fingers stretched wide apart, and said to the white people of the South on behalf of his race, '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 social progress,' the great wave of sound dashed itself against the walls, and the whole audience was on its feet in a delirium of applause, and I thought at that moment of the night when Henry Grady stood among the curling wreaths of tobacco smoke in Delmonico's banquet hall and said, 'I am a Cavalier among Roundheads.'
"I have heard the great orators of many countries, but not even Gladstone himself could have pleaded a cause with more consummate power than this angular Negro standing in a nimbus of sunshine, surrounded by the men who once fought to keep his race in bondage. The roar might swell ever so high, but the expression of his face never changed.
"A ragged, ebony giant, squatted on the floor in one of the aisles, watched the orator with burning eyes and tremulous face until the supreme outburst of applause came, then the tears ran down his face. Most of the Negroes in the audience were crying, perhaps without knowing just why.
"At the close of the speech Gov. Bullock rushed across the platform and seized the orator's hand. Another shout greeted this demonstration, and for a few moments the two men stood facing each other, hand in hand."
The papers all over the United States the next day after I spoke, and for months afterwards, were filled with the most complimentary accounts of and comments upon this speech. I quote a letter written by the Hon. Clark Howell to the New York World, and an editorial from the Boston Transcript, also two articles from colored papers, as fair samples of the expressions that were made throughout the country. The letter of Mr. Howell was as follows:
ATLANTA, GA., September 19.
'To the Editor of the World:
I do not exaggerate when I say that Prof. Booker T. Washington's address yesterday was one of the most notable speeches, both as to character and the warmth of its reception, ever delivered to a Southern audience. It was an epoch-making talk, and marks distinctly a turning point in the progress of the Negro race. Its effect in bringing about a perfect understanding between whites and blacks of the South will be immediate. The address was a revelation. It was the first time that a Negro orator had appeared on a similar occasion before a Southern audience.
"The propriety of inviting a representative of the Negro race to participate in the opening exercises was fully discussed a month ago, when the opening program was being arranged. Some opposition was manifested on account of the fear that public sentiment was not prepared for such an advanced step. The invitation, however, was extended by a vote of the Board of Directors, and the cordial greeting which the audience gave Washington's address shows that the board made no mistake. There was not a line in the address which would have been changed by the most sensitive of those who thought the invitation to be imprudent. The whole speech is a platform on which the whites and the blacks can stand with full justice to each race.
"The speech is a full vindication from the mouth of a representative Negro of the doctrine so eloquently advanced by Grady and those who have agreed with him that it is to the South that the Negro must turn for his best friend, and that his welfare is so closely identified with the progress of the white people of the South that each race is mutually dependent upon the other, and that the so-called 'race problem' must be solved in the development of the natural relations growing out of the association between the whites and blacks of the South.
"The question of social equality is eliminated as a factor in the development of the problem, and the situation is aptly expressed by Washington in the statement that '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 speech will do good, and the unanimous approval with which it has been received demonstrates the fact that it has already done good.
The Boston Transcript's editorial was as follows:
The speech of Mr. Washington at the Atlanta Exposition this week seems to have dwarfed all the other proceedings and the exhibition itself. The crowd that listened to it was carried away with enthusiasm, and the sensation it has caused in the press has rarely been equaled. The Southern papers themselves pronounce it epoch-making, and call it the beginning of the end of the war between the races. All this is no great surprise to those who have kept themselves informed upon the development of industrial and other education for Negroes in the Negro-populated districts of the country. Intelligent and sympathetic observers have long been aware that it was through the silent and serious and steady work of the school for the Negroes that the solution of the race problem was coming, and not through the passions of politics, stirred and kept hot by tricky professional party managers for use in presidential elections. Mr. Washington is no different from what he has been: he is saying no more than he and his backers have been saying for years. But he is a great revelation to those who have hitherto regarded the Negro question as one simply calling for slang-whanging partisan and sectional abuse instead of philosophy, patience and study."
The editor of the Texas Freeman wrote as follows:
"The address made by Booker T. Washington, Principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, at the formal opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition, stamps him as a most worthy representative of a large part of the country's citizenship. Without resort to hyperbolic exaggeration, it is but simple justice to call the address great. It was great. Great, in that it exhibited the speaker's qualities of head and heart; great, that he could and did discriminatingly recognize conditions as they affected his people, and greater still in the absolute modesty, self-respect and dignity with which he presented a platform upon which Clark Howell, of the Atlanta Constitution, says, 'both races, blacks and whites, can stand with full justice to each.' No better selection, among the whole number of the race's most prominent men; could have been made than Prof. Washington."
The Richmond Planet said:
"The speech of Prof. Booker T. Washington at the opening of the Atlanta Exposition was a magnificent effort and places him in the forefront of the representatives of our race in this country. Calm, dispassionate, logical, winning, it captivated the vast assemblage who heard it and caused a re-echoing sound of approval on the part of those who caught the rounded sentences and rhetorical periods as they were flashed over the wires.
"Reserved in his manner, earnest in the delivery, realizing fully the heavy responsibility resting upon him, he performed that duty with an ease that was magnetic and grace that was divine."
As soon as I had finished my address, the first thing that I remember is that Gov. Bullock rushed across the stage and took me by the hand. Others sitting on the platform did the same thing. Following my address came a brilliant and eloquent speech from judge Emory Speer. At the close of his address the President of the United States, Hon. Grover Cleveland, touched a button in Washington which started the machinery, and the Exposition was declared open. By the time the exercises in the Auditorium were finished it was quite late in the afternoon and, in fact, dark. A large number of people, both Northern and Southern, together with numbers of colored people, congratulated me most heartily on my address; in fact, I found it quite difficult to get out of the building or away from the Exposition grounds. As soon as possible I left the Exposition and went to my boarding place.
After the opening exercises a reception was tendered me by some of the colored citizens of Atlanta. I did not in any large measure appreciate the excitement and deep impression that my address seemed to create until the next morning about ten o'clock, when I went to the city on some errand. As soon as I entered the business portion of Atlanta I was surprised to find myself pointed out, and I was very soon surrounded by a crowd of people who were bent on shaking my hand and congratulating me; in fact, this was kept up on every street where I went, until I found it impossible to move with any degree of comfort about the streets, and so I returned to my boarding place. In a few hours I began receiving telegrams and letters from all parts of the country.
One thing I always thought was rather strange in connection with this address, and that is that no officer connected with the Exposition ever asked me what ground I was going to cover in my speech, or ever suggested that I should be careful not to say anything which would harm the relations between the races, and thus cripple the success of the Exposition. It would, of course, have been very easy for me to have uttered a single sentence which would have thrown a wet blanket over the prospects of the Exposition, and especially the harmonious relations of the races.
The next morning I took the train for Tuskegee. At the depot in Atlanta and at every station between Atlanta and Tuskegee I found a crowd of people anxious to shake hands with me, and who were pointed out to me as making remarks about my address.
Some days after I returned to Tuskegee, I sent the President of the United States, Hon. Grover Cleveland, a copy of the address I delivered at Atlanta, and was very much surprised as well as gratified to receive from him a letter which I here insert:
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, Esq.
MY DEAR SIR:--I thank you for sending me a copy of your address delivered at the Atlanta Exposition.
I thank you with much enthusiasm for making the address. I have read it with intense interest, and I think the Exposition would be fully justified if it did not do more than furnish the opportunity for its delivery. Your words cannot fail to delight and encourage all who wish well for your race; and if our colored fellow citizens do not from your utterances gather new hope and form new determinations to gain every valuable advantage offered them by their citizenship, it will be strange indeed. Yours very truly,
All of it was written with his own hand. From that time until the present, Mr. Cleveland has taken the deepest interest in Tuskegee and has been among my warmest and most helpful friends.
After I returned to Tuskegee I continued to be deluged with letters of congratulation and endorsement of my position. I received all kinds of propositions from lecture bureaus, editors of magazines and papers to take the lecture platform and write articles. One lecture bureau went as far as to offer me $50,000, or $200 a night, if I would place my services at its disposition for a given period of time. To all these communications I replied that my life work was at Tuskegee, and that wherever I should speak it must be in the interest of my race and the institution at Tuskegee, and that I could not accept any engagements that would seem to place a mere commercial value on my addresses. From that time until the present I have continued to receive liberal offers from lecture bureaus for my services. Only a few weeks ago the following letter came to me, but I have continued to refuse, as I expect to do in the future, to become a professional lecturer at any price:
CENTRAL LYCEUM BUREAU,
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, Tuskegee, Ala.
My DEAR SIR:--"If you will give us exclusive control of your lecture business for next summer and winter, season of 1898-99, I am confident I can make you more money than you have made this season on the platform. Would you consider an offer of say ten thousand dollars and all expenses for one hundred nights. Please let me hear from you and oblige, Yours very truly,
Soon after receiving the letter quoted above, I received a proposition from a lecture bureau in Boston offering me at the rate of $200 per night for my lectures for as long a time as I would give them my services at this rate, but I declined. Although I refused to become a professional lecturer for personal gain, I did not keep silent, but continued to work and speak in behalf of Tuskegee.
In the fall of 1895 I continued addressing large
audiences in the states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and in the Western states. During my trip to
the West I addressed the Hamilton Club and was its guest while in the city of Chicago. The Hamilton Club is
one of the largest and most influential political organizations of Republican faith in the West. While in
Chicago for the purpose of addressing this club, I was invited by Dr. Harper, the president of the University of
Chicago, to deliver an address before the students of the University, which I did, and was treated with great
consideration and kindness by all of the officers of the University.
Printing Pressroom. They do their own printing at Tuskegee Institute.
Paint Shop. Students at work, Tuskegee Institute.