The Atlanta Address
"In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
Booker T. Washington
Washington was invited to speak at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta because of his political conservatism on racial matters. The Exposition was a forum for southern commercial and economic progress and this was the first time that a black man had addressed the conference. He achieved national fame overnight with his well publicized "Atlanta Address."
Washington conceded to southern whites' demand for segregation, while he asserted blacks' desire for equal economic opportunity. He argued that the economic progress of the South depended upon the mutual prosperity of blacks and whites through education. He said social integration of the races was not required.
In the mind of many whites, this speech solidified Washington's position as a spokesman for African Americans. It thrust him into national prominence then unheard of for a black man.
Washington's idea of blacks helping themselves shifted the responsibilities of racial problems from whites to blacks. By saying that African American civil and political rights were not as important as social advancement, Washington alleviated the fears and concerns of whites.