Washington begins his famous “Atlanta Compromise Speech” by emphasizing the size of the African American population in the South. He then goes on to a metaphor about people on a boat who were dying of thirst until a friendly boat told them to cast their bucket down into the water and they drew up fresh water from the Amazon. I’m not sure about the use of this metaphor. I feel that Washington telling African Americans to try to put down roots and find success where they are is unnecessary. His energy would’ve been better spent on a metaphor encouraging Southern whites to be more accepting and accommodating. However, I do see that he may be using the metaphor to convey to the mostly white audience that African Americans were willing to put in effort to coexist peacefully.
A few paragraphs later, Washington talks about how people need to learn to dignify the labor based jobs that were mainly done by African Americans. He says that tilling a field needs to be seen with the same level of respect as writing a poem. I think this is really interesting to put in his speech because the idea he’s trying to convey is that once the different “classes” of jobs are equalized, then the people who do the different jobs will be seen as equal as well. This is a concept that is still relevant today with the way that immigrants who work in labor-based jobs are viewed. The jobs are still not seen as equal to white collar jobs, so the people doing them aren’t seen as equal. Overall, I thought Washington’s speech was very successful. He used a lot of rhetoric that seems different from what other people were saying at the time. I felt that his speech really toned down how extremely white Southerners needed to change their views on African Americans in order to make a real advance towards equality. However, I believe he did this intentionally to sort of ease them into the concept of equality. There’s also the fact that he was an African American speaking to a gathering of mostly white men, so he may just have been keeping it slightly subtle in order to make sure that they aren’t resentful of what he’s saying and that they take his sentiments into consideration.