What was the main idea of the Atlanta Compromise speech given by Booker T. Washington?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main idea of Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise” speech (delivered in 1895) was that blacks and whites in the South should realize that they needed each other and that they should act in ways that would allow them to coexist.  Washington told both sides to “cast down your bucket where you are.” 

Washington’s message was aimed at Southerners of both races.  He wanted the white Southerners to realize that black Southerners were a good source of labor for them.  He wanted the whites to hire black people to work for them instead of hoping that they could get immigrant labor.  He argued that black workers had proved their fidelity and their industriousness and that they would not engage in strikes and other disruptions that would harm their employers.

At the same time, Washington wanted black Southerners to be content where they were.  He wanted them to stop thinking about going to the North or to foreign countries.  He felt that they should not try to push for political power or equal rights.  Instead, they should work hard in the South and, by doing so, cause whites to (eventually) respect them.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington's speech argued that the new landscape of post Civil War America lent itself for African- Americans to be a valuable component.  I think that this is seen in Washington's call for African- Americans to be a part of the new move from farms to factories, and to partake in the industrialist setting that enveloped America.  There was less of a call for racial and social equality and more of a call for African- Americans to be a part of the economic progress of the time period.  The speech called for African- Americans to be a part of the labor pool, to be viewed as more important than immigrant labor, and to be content with the idea of earning an income in this setting.  The speech did not call for a transformation of power or a change in how African- Americans were viewed or how they possessed power in such a setting.  Rather, the speech called for African- Americans to be a part of this industrial progress, however small a part that might be.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Booker T. Washington was a leader in the African American quest for equality in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. He was concerned about the lack of rights for African Americans.

In the Atlanta Compromise, Booker T. Washington told African Americans that they should focus on getting their economic rights first. He believed African Americans should get an education and then get good jobs. He felt that it was very important for African Americans to become secure financially before dealing with the lack of rights in other areas. He believed that once African Americans were financially secure, they could then focus on the fight for political rights that had been denied or restricted after Reconstruction ended. Not all African Americans agreed with Booker T. Washington. Some African Americans felt they should get all their rights immediately instead of waiting to get their political rights.