1. Who is the author of the document?
2. When was this document written? How long after the event was it written?
3. What is the subject of the document?
4. Where does the action contained in this document take place? Is it important to the subject of the document? What is the relationship of the author to the action?
5. Why did the author write this document? Who is his audience? What does he hope to gain from writing this document? What is his point of view?
6. Taking the above answers into account, how accurate do you find this document? What would be the drawbacks of using this document? What would this document help a historian to explain/analyze?
1. The author of the document:
Booker T. Washington was an eminent Afro-American leader and educator. He was born in the plantation of James Burroughs, in Franklin County. He was born to an unknown white man and Jane, a slave cook. He began his early life as a slave in the Burroughs’s plantation. In 1872, he got admission in Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia. The principle of the institute believed in the utilitarian education of the Blacks. This philosophy later found expression in the later speeches and activities of Washington .He laid emphasis on the vocational and industrial skills of the Blacks which came in contrast with the ongoing agitation for the civil and political rights of the Blacks.
2. Time period of the speech:
This speech was delivered on September 18, 1895 at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. Two years ago, in the year 1893, Washington had given a speech in Atlanta during the meeting of the Christian Workers. In the meeting he spoke about developing the industrial and vocational skills of the Blacks so that they could earn a decent living by their own efforts. His speech received positive response from the audience which comprised both the Blacks and Whites. This prompted the board of the Exposition decided to begin their meeting with this speech that he gave in front of the Christian Workers.
3. The subject of the speech:
The speech dealt with the “Negro problem”, that is, the degrading economic and social condition of the Blacks. He argued that only through hard work and constant struggle can the Blacks earn respect among the Whites. He was opposed to the agitation for the civil and political rights of the Blacks. His speech called for a “shared responsibility” between the two races where the Whites were appealed to trust the Blacks and the Blacks were also urged upon to stand by the Whites in both their good and bad times. In short, he was in favor of integration2.
4. The subject of the speech and the relationship between the author and the speech:
The speech deals with the improvement in the economic and social condition of the Blacks. This speech came at a time when the Blacks were agitating for their civil and political rights. Washington seemed to strike the right chord when he showed his opposition to such political movements. He argued that such agitations were meaningless. The Blacks should concentrate on imbibing the vocational and industrial skills so that they can earn their own living. He was troubled over the racial trouble that went on in the South.
However, it was later discovered that Washington was keen on being friends with influential Whites which prompted him on making such a reconciliatory speech of “compromise”. As a matter of fact, Washington was supporting the political movement for the civil rights.
5. The reason behind the speech and the point of view of the author:
The motive of Washington in making this speech was twofold. On the one hand, the speech was supposed to make the Blacks aware of the importance of earning their own living. In doing so, he urged the Whites to have belief and trust upon the Blacks. He also asked the Blacks to earn their respect “by the productions of our own hands”. On the other hand, he also hoped to win the favor of the influential Whites through this “Atlanta compromise”. His audience consisted of both White and Black people. He hoped to get the attention of the Whites and prove his allegiance. Yet his speech was also inspiring since he tried to improve the existing relationship of the two races and also better the economic condition of the Blacks. The viewpoint of Washington was that it was fruitless to agitate for civil rights when the Blacks can earn their respect through hard work and struggle. The whites should trust the Blacks and the Blacks themselves should support the Whites as well.
6. The accuracy and the drawbacks of the speech:
The speech by Washington was an inspiration for the Negroes. He moved the focus of the Blacks from the political agitation to their social conditions. However, later incidents showed that he was secretly supporting the Blacks movement for the political rights. Hence, it showed that every document of history needs to be verified with the help of events that occur simultaneously at the time the speech was made. Though the speech was made in earnest, the historian needs to keep in mind that not all recommendations or assertions made by the speaker need be true. Neither does it prove that the speaker had to follow all the assertions that he made in his speech.
"American National Biography Online: Washington, Booker T.". Anb.Org. Last modified 2016. Accessed August 29, 2016. https://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00737.html.
"Atlanta Compromise Speech". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Last modified 2016. Accessed August 29, 2016. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/atlanta-compromise-speech.
"Booker T. Washington Delivers The 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech". Historymatters.Gmu.Edu. Last modified 2016. Accessed August 29, 2016. https://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/39/.
"The Rise And Fall Of Jim Crow . Jim Crow Stories . The Atlanta Compromise Speech | PBS". Pbs.Org. Last modified 2016. Accessed August 29, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_speech.html.