Booker T. Washington, considered today as one of the most influential and respected African American figures, was born into slavery and was later freed by the revolutionizing effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. His charismatic and peaceful personality along with his role in philanthropic acts, politics, and negotiations soon turned him into a source of admiration shortly after the end of the civil war. He worked for the coexistence of blacks and whites and in his strive, he delivered his most famous speech, known as the “Atlanta Compromise”.
He expresses his beliefs that African Americans should take advantage of what they know and strive to excel in the occupations that they already have instead of having an everlasting fight for something. He also argues that whites should open their minds and see that African Americans are their allies who are willing to do business and work together in order to have better living standards for both. Washington’s skills as a public speaker along with his use of rhetorical strategies such as logos and ethos, allegory, and tone are what made this such an impacting and powerful speech.
Washington’s use of logos and ethos make a logical and ethical approach to the point he is trying to make. The first sentence in the speech makes a statistical claim about the amount of African Americans who lived in the south in those times. “One-third of the population… is of the Negro race…No Enterprise seeking the material, civil or moral welfare can disregard…reach the highest success”.
This introductory statement makes an appeal to logos claiming that due to the fact that one out of three persons is an African American, whites and blacks will have to learn to coexist in order for the economic developments to flourish. Washington also makes an appeal to ethos when he states that the recognition of the “American Negro will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom”. He points out his aspiration that this recognition may benefit the future relations of both races.
One aspect that makes the “Atlanta Compromise” such a memorable speech is the “cast down your buckets where you are” allegory. Washington speaks about a ship that had been lost at sea for days without any water, and then another ship finds them and tells them to “cast down their buckets where you are”, and the water that they get turns out to be fresh water. This allegory represents Washington’s idea that African Americans should use the resources that they already in order to excel in there are of occupation.
What makes Washington’s speech so moving and charismatic is his tone. He appears to invoke all his emotions and feelings into the optimistic oration that he gives. He expresses his firm belief that the prosperity of the United States depends greatly on the coexistence of both races. He appears to take a neutral side on the topic he is discussing, though makes both sides see that cooperation is necessary in order for peace to exist. Washington’s competent use of the rhetorical devices helps him express and transmit his ideas clearly in a way that is easy to comprehend and at the same time is convincing.
- "The Atlanta Compromise", by Booker T. Washington