Tag Archives: Booker T Washington

Booker T. Washington and the ‘Atlanta Compromise’ – in memory

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page From Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.
A Page From Our American Story
Booker T. Washington and
the ‘Atlanta Compromise’
In his 1900 autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington wrote:“I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression on me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.”
The vision of that schoolroom and the idea that learning was “paradise” would provide lifelong inspiration for Washington. He is, perhaps, best remembered as the head of the world famous Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, founded in 1881, and known today as Tuskegee University.

Booker T Washington speeks at Carnegie Hall
Booker T. Washington holds a Carnegie
Hall audience spellbound during his
Tuskegee Institute Silver Anniversary
lecture, 1906. Mark Twain is seated just
behind Mr. Washington.
The New York Times photo archive.

His driving personality led a group of businessmen to ask if he would take the lead in creating the school. The Tuskegee Institute was the embodiment of Washington’s over-arching belief that African Americans should eschew political agitation for civil rights in favor of industrial education and agricultural expertise.

Washington believed that once it was apparent to whites that blacks would “contribute to the market place of the world,” and be content with living “by the production of our hands,” the barriers of racial inequality and social injustice would begin to erode. Those words were spoken on September 18, 1895 at the Cotton States and International Exposition held in Atlanta, Georgia, known as the Atlanta Exposition. Washington’s speech stressed accommodation rather than resistance to the segregated system under which African Americans lived. He renounced agitation and protest tactics, and urged blacks to subordinate demands for political and equal rights, and concentrate instead on improving job skills and usefulness through manual labor. “Cast down your buckets where you are,” he exhorted his fellow African Americans in the speech.

Throughout his adult life, Washington played a dominant role in the African American community and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of blacks, many of whom were born in slavery. He gained access to presidents, top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education. President William McKinley visited the Tuskegee Institute and lauded Washington, promoting him as a black leader who would not be perceived as too “radical” to whites. In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited Washington to the White House. A picture was published of the occasion, which angered many whites who were offended by the idea of a Black American being entertained in the White House. Washington was never invited to the White House again, although Roosevelt continued to consult with him on racial issues.

Washington also associated with some of the richest and most powerful businessmen of the era. His contacts included such diverse and well-known industrialists as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Julius Rosenwald, enlisting their support to help raise funds to establish and operate thousands of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of African Americans throughout the South.

However, by the early 1900s, other African Americans, such as W.E.B. Du Bois and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter, were becoming Booker T Washington & Teddy Rooseveltnational figures and speaking out about the lack of progress African Americans were making in

Booker T. Washington and President Theodore Roosevelt
at The Tuskegee Institute, 1905.
Yale Collection of American Literature,
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

American society. Du Bois, initially an ally of Washington’s, was particularly vocal about what he believed was Washington’s acceptance of black’s unchanging situation and began to refer to Washington’s Atlanta speech as the “Atlanta Compromise” — a label that remains to this day.

The criticism by Du Bois and others diminished Washington’s stature for some in the black community. They denounced his surrender of civil rights and his stressing of training in crafts, some obsolete, to the neglect of a liberal arts education. Washington’s public position of accommodation to segregation came in conflict with increasing calls from African Americans and liberal whites for more aggressive actions to end discrimination. Opposition centered in the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an interracial organization established in 1909.

Yet there was another side to Washington. Although outwardly conciliatory, he secretly financed and encouraged lawsuits to block attempts to disfranchise and segregate African Americans. Since his death in 1915, historians have discovered voluminous private correspondence that shows that Washington’s apparent conservatism was only part of his strategy for uplifting his race.

Even in death, as in life, Washington continues to engender great debates as to his true legacy. He was a founder of Tuskegee Institute, building it into one of the premiere universities for African Americans at a time when few alternatives were available, and he raised considerable funds for hundreds of other schools in the South for blacks. Yet, his ‘Atlanta Compromise’ speech stressed the need for blacks to accept the status quo and focus on manual labor as a way to economic development. In contrast, Du Bois believed that the “object of all true education is not to make men carpenters; it is to make carpenters men.”

Washington’s position that “the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly,” stands in stark contradiction to his covert support of legal challenges to discrimination. It is difficult to calculate the negative impact that flowed from Washington’s unwillingness to speak out publically against lynching and other acts of violence against blacks at the time — even with his extraordinary access to presidents and other prominent whites in the nation.

These two giants — Washington and Du Bois — underscore the fact that there was not a single linear path to achieving racial equality in the nation. The struggle required African Americans to both battle and accommodate the realities of segregation and discrimination to help future generations more fully realize the promise of America.

All the best,
Lonnie Bunch, Director

Lonnie Bunch

demanding the right to be … a repost

The World is watching …

While the fight for Democracy breaks out all over the World, we see the marches the violence against protesters who have finally had enough. We see what most are calling the Arab World in possible transition. A movement against dictators and clerics who have ruled with iron fists and have engaged in outdated ancient practices.

Remember … there is always strength in numbers

It is so hard to understand, believe, accept, or fathom that we are in the 21st Century yet there are people on the Continent of Africa dying at the hands of their own in the Arab World for wanting to be heard, for wanting to be participants in their own futures and this is not new. There are mothers with children, older men and women and students are coming out in droves protesting to let tell these dictators it is time for a change. In a desperate move to control the truth of what they are doing to their own people, dictators have tried to cut off all connections to the outside world. They insist and expect the world to believe that the U.S. is at fault, meddling in the process of change, which should happen slowly. When the protesters did not leave, most if not all these tyrants offered up some concessions to the people like crumbs while trying to divert responsibility until their patience ran out with tantrums and threats, crackdown, use extreme force, and death to those who refuse to obey. Tyrants obviously, act without remorse because the people no longer choose to be their little children, slaves and or pawns in the effort stay in power. It is my hope that the Militia or Mercenaries rise up against these despots. As I watched in horror, I ask myself if these people have even allowed themselves a chance to stop and consider what personal, freedom would mean for them and their families. I also wonder if they feel they deserve to be happy let alone want an opportunity a change from the old ancient ways to a life with the freedom to speak, better wages, human rights, actually be a participant in the process of life. Then, like so many others have compared the uprisings in the U.S. over bargaining rights that have been a part of the Middle Class for over forty years and the forty-one year revolution for freedom in Libya.

We all know that the demand to be heard these days is great and how amazing it is to see people on two different continents with similar reactions by those who control, who truly are working for an agenda that is one of great self-interest. This seemingly symbiotic thing going on, though we are worlds apart the Arabs must fear not evil to get the change they need and want … it means that any fear of authority is not an option, the possibility of death while here in America we rely on lawmakers to do the right thing

The journey toward freedom is sometimes paved with danger

Prison sentencing in the United States

Petitioning United States Congress

Support the Smarter Sentencing Act

Petition by Marisa Mansfield
Davenport, Iowa

Help Keep #FixOvertime.org in the News … CAP


The Deadline To Submit Comments Is Tomorrow, Friday, September 4 at 4pm ET


It is crunch time for overtime.

We’ve written a lot about the importance of the Obama administration’s new overtime rule: it will go a long way to making sure that workers get paid for all the hours they work. But it won’t happen on its own. Special interests are trying to weaken the new rule. That’s why the Department of Labor needs to hear your support.

The deadline for comments is tomorrow, September 4 at 4pm ET. Visit FixOvertime.org to lend your support for the proposed overtime protections.

We don’t make many direct calls for action in The Progress Report, so you can rest assured that this one is important. Raising the overtime threshold to $50,440 will benefit millions:

  • More money in the pockets of workers leads to a stronger economy. Nearly 5 million workers will have the right to get paid for their extra work under the new overtime rule.
  • This rule is absolutely critical for increasing economic security for women and families. 54 percent of the employees newly covered by overtime reform are women. And 44 percent of formerly exempt single mothers will now be covered at the proposed threshold.
  • The Latino community would see disproportionately large benefits from the new overtime rule. Latino workers make up 11.6 percent of the salaried workforce but 15.5 percent of workers who would directly benefit from the rule. All in all, more than 2.1 million—or 34.4 percent of all Latino workers—would benefit from the new rule.
  • The new overtime rule will more than double the number of millennials who are guaranteed overtime pay. The new overtime rule will directly benefit 4.7 million millennials.
  • This is a huge boost for many low- and middle-income workers who need it the most. Pay for black and Latino women could rise by almost $250 per week under new overtime rule:

BOTTOM LINE: This is your last chance. Please go to FixOvertime.Org now to let the Department of Labor know you support the important new rule. Then forward this to your friends and family and ask they do the same!

The Next Midwestern Assault on Unions


How Illinois And Missouri Are Continuing A Bad Trend For The Middle Class

This week, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the Republicans in the Missouri legislature have both shown that they are anti-middle class. Rauner and the Missouri legislature continue an assault on unions that has been particularly potent in the Midwest, to the detriment of workers across the region.

This Midwestern flavor of anti-unionism really took off back in 2005, when former Indiana Governors Mitch Daniels eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, which decimated public unions in Indiana. In 2012, Daniels continued his assault on unions by making Indiana a so-called “right-to-work” state, making it illegal for unions to collect dues from non-members, despite the fact that they negotiate employment conditions for all workers, union or otherwise. While conservatives claim that right-to-work creates more jobs, the evidence suggests that this policy costs the average full-time worker, unionized or not, $1,500 a year in lost wages.

A number of Midwest governors took Mitch Daniels’ example and ran with it. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining for most public employee unions in 2011, while Ohio Governor John Kasich tried, but failed to do the same in 2011 as well. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder mimicked Daniels’ agenda by making Michigan a right-to-work state in 2013. Both Michigan and Wisconsin saw union membership steeply drop as a result.

Now Governor Rauner and the Missouri legislature want to implement these union-bashing policies into their states. Rauner made headlines last year for supporting eliminating the minimum wage as a member of the 0.1 percent. But now, he has exceeded even those anti-worker by signing an executive order that effectively makes Illinois a right-to-work state for public unions.

Meanwhile, emboldened by the 2014 election, Republicans in Missouri are moving a “paycheck protection” bill through the legislature, which would “require some state workers to provide annual written authorization for union dues to be deducted from their paychecks,” according to the Washington Post. In addition to their attempt to slyly undermine unions, the Republican legislature will also attempt to pass a separate right-to-work bill. Instead of working to create a larger middle class, these Midwestern Republicans continue their attacks against unions, which have done so much to improve working conditions and help build the middle class.

BOTTOM LINE: Unions are incredibly important to creating an economy that works for everyone. These Midwestern Republicans have contributed to trends that weaken and shrink unions, even though research shows that unions and are one of the keys to an inclusive prosperity that decreases inequality and builds up the middle class.