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7 Chapter One Beyond the “Atlanta Compromise” n September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington made history. He sat on the auditorium stage for the opening ceremonies of the Cotton States and International Exposition. Washington was the only African American among the dignitaries assembled on the platform to inaugurate this celebration of southern progress, national unity, and international ambitions. With every seat occupied, the crowd stood in the aisles and gathered outside. The audience cheered as the platform party entered, but people quieted down when Victor Herbert picked up his baton and conducted the band in his composition “Salute to Atlanta.” Episcopal Bishop Cleland K. Nelson offered an invocation, and Albert Howell, brother of the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, read Frank Stanton’s patriotic “Ode to the Exposition.” Then came the speeches. Charles A. Collier, president of the exposition, garnered enthusiastic applause for his remarks and a musical tribute that ended with “Dixie.” Emma Thompson, president of the Board of Commissioners for the Woman’s Building, followed. Then Rufus Bullock, Georgia’s Reconstruction Republican governor who had redeemed himself in the eyes of Atlanta’s elite sufficiently to serve as master of ceremonies for opening day, introduced Washington. With the late afternoon sun illuminating his face, Washington delivered the speech that has come to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise.” O 8 chapter one Washington’s words and the significance they assumed have obliterated the historical memory of his predecessors at the podium , the speakers who came afterward, and virtually anything else about the Cotton States Exposition. He urged African Americans to forgo political rights and social equality and focus instead on industrial education and economic advancement. By doing so, he declared, they could join with white southerners in achieving regional progress. Raising his arm and stretching his fingers apart, Washington proclaimed: “In all things social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet, one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”1 According to an observer, “The multitude was in an uproar of enthusiasm.” Governor Bullock rushed across the stage and shook the black man’s hand as the racially segregated audience shouted its approval.2 Both contemporaries and historians have debated whether the speech represented accommodation to white supremacy or a realistic response to the growing oppression of African Americans.3 Washington’s speech and the debate it engendered have obscured a much more complicated racial drama at the Cotton States Exposition, one that revealed not only the accomplishments of African Americans but also their struggle to define their place in the New South. The exposition laid bare the tension between the hopes of African Americans and the limits imposed by white supremacists. Atlanta was the capital of the New South, a term that Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution in the 1880s, had popularized .4 Rejecting nostalgia for antebellum plantations and slavery, Grady conceived of the New South as a region with a diversified economy that included commerce, industry, and railroads as well as agriculture. While supporting white supremacy, he wrote and spoke about racial harmony and national reunification, positions likely to attract northern investment. Under the leadership of the probusiness politicians in Grady’s circle, Atlanta boomed. Expositions in 1881 and 1887 attracted Beyond the “Atlanta Compromise” 9 thousands of visitors, including William Tecumseh Sherman. Investments and new residents also flowed into the city; in 1890 more than four hundred factories tallied $13 million in production. The first long-distance telephone lines connected Atlanta with Chicago that year, and soon the city installed a new water plant to pump and treat water from the Chattahoochee River, as well as a modern sewer system that, despite its advantages, did not entirely replace privies. By 1895 Atlanta had a population of seventy-five thousand, and within an eight-mile radius lived 200,000 people who could travel easily into the city by way of 125 miles of electric rail lines. In addition, seven long-distance railroads linked the city to the rest of the South and the nation. The Georgia School of Technology, now Georgia Tech, opened its doors in 1888, and its engineering curriculum reflected the value Atlantans placed on practical, as opposed to classical, education . Football first came to Atlanta in 1892 when Auburn met the University of Georgia at Piedmont Park, a rivalry repeated at the Cotton States Exposition. The state capital had moved to Atlanta from Milledgeville in 1868 under the Republican administration of Governor Bullock, so the city...


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