I've been reading Up From Slavery, an autobiography of the life of Booker T. Washington and his journey from slave to student to university founder to sought-after national speaker.
In the late 1800s, Washington was asked to join a committee to appear before congress to procure government support for the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. In the planning stages of the exposition, it was "decided that it would be a fitting recognition of the coloured race to erect a large and attractive building which should be devoted wholly to showing the progress of the Negro since freedom. It was further decided to have the building designed and erected wholly by Negro mechanics. This plan was carried out. In design, beauty, and general finish the Negro Building was equal to the others on the grounds."
Washington was asked to head up the project, but he declined in order to better devote time to his work at Tuskegee Institute. Then, after years of struggle and dedication to changing the plight of Black Americans a mere 30 years after the Civil War, Washington was asked to be an opening speaker at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, at Atlanta, Georgia, on September 18, 1895. He accepted. The whole speech, one of his most renowned, is worth the read. This one excerpt is a jewel in the crown.
"...... in your effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South.....let this be constantly in mind, that, while from representation in these buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, this, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth." - Booker T. Washington, from The Atlanta Compromise Speech, his address at the opening of The Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, September 18, 1895.
One hundred and twenty-two years later, we have yet to see this hope fully realized. It is a dream no less worthy than that of Martin Luther King Jr. , and a goal still worth striving for, not just for the South, but our nation as a whole.
Mr. Washington, from your mouth, to God's ears.
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