Booker T. Washington (Modified)
Booker T. Washington was born a slave in 1856 and was nine years old when
slavery ended. He became the principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a
school designed to teach blacks industrial skills. Washington was a skillful
politician and speaker, and he won the support of whites in the North and South
who donated money to the school. On September 18, 1895, Booker T.
Washington spoke before a mostly white audience in Atlanta.
Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our
freedom we began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in
Congress or the state legislature was more attractive than starting a dairy
farm or garden.
A ship lost at sea for many days passed a friendly ship and sent out a
signal, “Water, water; we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly ship at
once came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time
the signal, “Water, water; send us water!” ran up from the distressed ship,
and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are” . . . .The
captain of the distressed vessel (ship), at last heeding (listening to) the
injunction (order), cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh,
To those of my race I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”—
cast it down in making friends with the Southern white man, who is your
next-door neighbor. Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce,
in domestic service. . . . No race can prosper till it learns that there is as
much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life
we must begin, and not at the top.
To those of the white race who look to foreign immigrants for the prosperity
of the South, I would repeat what I say to my own race, “Cast down your
bucket where you are.” Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes,
whose fidelity (loyalty) and love you have tested. . . . As we have proved
our loyalty to you in the past . . . so in the future, in our humble way, we
shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach. . . . In all
things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one
as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.
Source: Excerpt from Booker T. Washington’s ‘Atlanta Compromise’ speech,
Document B: W.E.B. DuBois (Modified)
The most influential public critique of Booker T. Washington came in 1903 when
black leader and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois published an essay in his book, The
Souls of Black Folk. DuBois rejected Washington’s message and instead called
for political power, insistence on civil rights, and the higher education of African-
American youth. DuBois was born and raised a free man in Massachusetts and
was the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard.
The most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is
the rise of Mr. Booker T. Washington. His leadership began at the time
when Civil War memories and ideals were rapidly passing; a day of
astonishing commercial development was dawning; a sense of doubt and
hesitation overtook the freedmen’s sons. Mr. Washington came at the
psychological moment when whites were a little ashamed of having paid
so much attention to Negroes [during Reconstruction], and were
concentrating their energy on dollars.
Mr. Washington practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro
races. Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes
as men and American citizens. He asks that black people give up, at least
for the present, three things—
First, political power; Second, insistence on civil rights; Third, higher
education of Negro youth,
— and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the
accumulation of wealth, and the pacifying (calming down) of the South.
As a result of this tender of the palm-branch (peace offering), what has
been the return? In these years there have occurred:
1. The disfranchisement (taking away the right to vote) of the Negro; 2.
The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro; 3. The
steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the
Mr. Washington’s doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and
South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders and
stand aside as critical spectators (onlookers); when in fact the burden
belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we do not
all work on righting these great wrongs.
Source: W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903).