Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Atlanta Compromise

"The Atlanta Compromise" is the term that coined a speech made by the famous African-American civil rights leader, Booker T. Washington, in 1895 at the Atlanta Exposition. Washington, who thought "the agitation of the question of social equality an extremist folly" (America, pg. 605) stressed the development of economic equality first, whereby social equality would follow.
In the speech he detailed what he felt to be the reason for the African-American man's troubles as having "began at the top instead of at the bottom; that the seat in congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill..." (Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery, pg. 106) While he expounds upon this statement for the remainder of the speech, this statement represents his feeling that by having sought social equality only, the African-American man had neglected developing economic equality, and ultimately achieved neither.
By appealing to the southern white man's quest for industrial growth, he argued "nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward" (Up From Slavery, pg. 108) while listing the virtues of his people as a quality, hardworking people. He argued that looking to foreign born workers instead would be a hindrance to the south's prosperity. Having linked the prosperity of the white and the African-American man, his message was well received. He went on to establish the Tuskegee Institute as a testament to these views.