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?
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."
Booker T. Washington was one of the most politically powerful African Americans at the beginning of the of the 20th century. He delivered his now famous "Exposition Address" at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta on September 18, 1895.
His address is an earnest plea to the blacks not to engage in any form of militant protest to secure their civil rights and equality with their white neighbours: "The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly." On the contrary, he urges them to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in the field of agriculture, business and commerce and succeed in life: "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."
He emphasises his message to his audience with an anecdote of a ship which had been lost at sea right at the very mouth of the river Amazon and whose sailors were dying of thirst. They managed to survive after they listened to the advice of the skipper of a friendly vessel who told them to "cast down their bucket" into the sea and draw up the fresh water.
The blacks are also like the distressed sailors: they are ignorant of their very means of survival which are readily available so close at hand. He urges them to be practical and utilize the easily accessible commercial opportunities and better their status.