Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Marjorie Romeyn - The Legacy of Booker T. Washington and the Atlanta Compromise

From The American Conservative:

Despite his prodigious career in education, Booker T. Washington’s legacy has been tarnished with a charged failure to do more for civil rights during his lifetime: Robert J. Norell, a historian and author of a recent biography on Washington’s life damned him as a “heroic failure”.

In 1895, Washington delivered a speech that would be known as the Atlanta Compromise: a short address to allay white fears of a black uprising in a postbellum South. It was delivered to a mostly white audience at the Cotton Sates and International Exposition in Atlanta concerning the current state of black men and women in the South, their place in society, and their future as citizens in the country that once held them as property.
“…[Y]ou 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.”

Though the language may have been obsequious, if one reads between the lines and flowery phrases, Washington’s address contained a warning about the protracted denial of the black man of his identity in the South—a warning that was brought to pass through Washington’s ideological descendants.

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