In Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Exposition Address he advised to "cast down your bucket where you are." What does this phrase mean? He advised this to black and white southerners. Why did he give this advice and how did others respond to it?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is important to note that Washington did not advise both black and white Southerners "to cast down their buckets where [they were]" but specifically addressed this message to blacks who were emancipated slaves or the children of emancipated slaves:

To those of my race who depend on bettering their...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

It is important to note that Washington did not advise both black and white Southerners "to cast down their buckets where [they were]" but specifically addressed this message to blacks who were emancipated slaves or the children of emancipated slaves:

To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbour, I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.

Washington spoke as though he had anticipated the eventual migration of black people to northern cities, which would precipitate at the beginning of the twentieth century. He also seemed to anticipate the migration of black Americans to foreign lands, such as France, after the Second World War. Newly-found freedom and the revocation of opportunities in the South after the Compromise of 1877, which had ended Reconstruction, made migration a foregone conclusion.

Washington's speech appealed to whites, some of whom were his benefactors, helping to fund the Tuskegee Institute, who did not want to lose cheap black labor. However, the speech also asked black people, many of whom only knew how to tend crops, to use the skills they knew to make decent livings instead of pursuing jobs in the North, jobs to which they may have been ill-suited.

Washington favored practicality and believed that black people had no real use for a liberal arts education. This belief sharply contrasted with that of W. E. B. DuBois, who had criticized Washington in an issue of Crisis magazine, DuBois's publication. DuBois, himself an exceptionally learned man, believed that especially intelligent black people had a responsibility to educate themselves to become leaders of their community. This group was designated "the Talented Tenth."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team