The Atlanta Compromise refers to a speech delivered by Booker T. Washington on September 18, 1895, in Atlanta, Georgia. In this speech, he advocated for racial cooperation urging the whites and the blacks to realize the importance for each other for peaceful coexistence. He further encouraged the Americans of African origin to accept social segregation as a way of gaining economic security and education. Although the speech only lasted for 10 minutes, it has been termed as one of the most influential and controversial speeches in the U.S. From different dimensions; the statement was both criticized and applauded.
According to Washington, vocation education was more valuable to the black community than a political office, social advantages, and higher education. According to the scholar, vocational education would give the black community an opportunity for economic security. Notably, he gave an analogy of the human fingers to pass across his message of racial relation stating that in social matters, people can be separate as the fingers, yet all are important for mutual progress (Washington 566). Washington also placed responsibility on the side of the whites, noting that in return for the blacks remaining socially separate and peaceful, the whites should accept responsibility for improving the economic and social welfare of all Americans despite their race.
The Atlanta Compromise speech was an indispensable step towards enhancing corporation between the blacks and the white community in the U.S. The white leaders, both in the South and the North received the speech with enthusiasm. However, some black intellectuals were disturbed fearing that the ‘compromise’ philosophy advocated by Washington would doom the blacks, forcing them to submit to the whites. Some noted that the speech represented the old attitude of submission and adjustment which was not welcomed by many Negros.
Washington, Booker T. “Booker T. Washington Delivers the 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech.” Booker T. Washington Papers 3 (1895): 583-87.