What has become known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech, delivered to The Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the most tantalizing, and saddest, might have beens in the history of the nation. Black educator and writer Booker T. Washington, the voice of Black America in the eyes of the general public, to an enthusiastic and overwhelmingly white audience, expounded his vision of a New South where white and black working together could lead to an era of prosperity such as the South had never known:
Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third [of] 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.
It is one of the great tragedies of American history that Washington’s prediction went largely ignored after an initial warm reception. The South paid for it with almost half a century of relative economic sluggish growth, and, in may ways, the nation is still paying for it. Booker T. Washington September 18, 1895: Continue Reading