"Atlanta Compromise" Speech

by Booker T. Washington

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What effect does Booker T. Washington achieve by opening his "Atlanta Compromise" speech with the following appeal to logos? : "One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race."

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Logos is a rhetorical device that involves stating facts or using other forms of logic to convince an audience of a position. Booker T. Washington delivered the "Atlanta Compromise" before an all-white audience in 1895. He starts with this opening to convey to his audience the importance of coming up...

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Logos is a rhetorical device that involves stating facts or using other forms of logic to convince an audience of a position. Booker T. Washington delivered the "Atlanta Compromise" before an all-white audience in 1895. He starts with this opening to convey to his audience the importance of coming up with an economic program that will help such a large portion of the South. By stating that one-third of the South is composed of African Americans, he lets the audience know that African Americans are vital to the economy and future of the South. To improve the South and its economy, business leaders will have to attend to the wellbeing and improvement of African Americans, he asserts. This opening is designed to capture the attention of the audience and direct their attention to the importance of helping African Americans in the South.

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In the opening paragraph of his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech, Booker T. Washington effectively begins by appealing to logos. In other words, he appeals to reason and shows himself to be a reasonable, logical man:

"One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest success. I but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom."

The effects of such an appeal to logic include the following:

  • Washington implies that racial conflict can be diminished if only other people are willing to be as reasonable as he is.
  • In particularly, he implies that his white listeners should be reasonable and should give his speech a careful, reasonable hearing.
  • He demonstrates that black people are just as capable of reasoning as whites are – a fact that some whites would have denied.
  • He shows that black people are the intellectual equals of whites – again, a fact that some whites would have denied.
  • He shows that a black man who has been educated can more than hold his own in a discussion with whites.  In other words, he serves as an example of the merits of educating as many black citizens as possible.
  • He implies that he does not want to arouse the anger of his audience or express his own anger; instead, he wants to talk sense and talk sensibly.
  • He pays his audience a certain degree of respect by implying that they are as reasonable as he is – or at least that they have the potential and opportunity to be as reasonable as he is.
  • He implicitly contradicts the racism of those who would have claimed that black persons reacted emotionally rather than intellectually when faced with a problem.
  • He implies that black people can be reasonable and civilized – an important implication, since many racists at the time argued that blacks were likely to be impulsive and violent.

In all the ways just mentioned, then, Washington refutes many of the charges of racists not only through his spoken words but also through his particular personal example.

 

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