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An Address Delivered At The Opening Of The Cotton States And International Exposition


of Tuskegee Institute

[Note 21: Atlanta, Georgia, September 18, 1895.]

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors, and Citizens:

One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No
enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section
can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest
success. I but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment
of the masses of my race when I say that in no way have the value and
manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously
recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at every
stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement
the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of
our freedom.

Not only this, but the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a
new era of industrial progress. Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not
strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top
instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the State
Legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that
the political convention or stump-speaking had more attractions than
starting a dairy-farm or truck-garden.

A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel.
From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: "Water,
water; we die of thirst!" The answer from the friendly vessel at once
came back: "Cast down your bucket where you are." A second time the
signal, "Water, water; send us water!" ran up from the distressed
vessel, and was answered: "Cast down your bucket where you are." And a
third and fourth signal for water was answered: "Cast down your bucket
where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding
the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh,
sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race
who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who
underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the
Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: "Cast
down your bucket where you are"--cast it down in making friends in every
manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.

Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic
service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is well to
bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear,
when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the
Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world, and in nothing
is this Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance. Our
greatest danger is, that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we
may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the
productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper
in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put
brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in
proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the
substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can
prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field
as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not
at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our

To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign
birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South,
were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, "Cast down
your bucket where you are." Cast it down among the 8,000,000 Negroes
whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days
when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast
down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labor
wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads
and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth and
helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of
the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and
encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of
head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus
land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your
factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the
past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient,
faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.
As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your
children, watching by the sick-beds of your mothers and fathers, and
often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the
future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no
foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in
defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and
religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both
races one. 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

There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest
intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts
tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be
turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and
intelligent citizen. Efforts or means so invested will pay a thousand
per cent. interest. These efforts will be twice blessed--"blessing him
that gives and him that takes."

There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:

"The laws of changeless justice bind
Oppressor with oppressed;
And close as sin and suffering joined
We march to fate abreast."

Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load
upwards, or they will pull against you the load downwards. We shall
constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South,
or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute
one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we
shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding
every effort to advance the body politic.

Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at
an exhibition of our progress, you must not expect overmuch. Starting
thirty years ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts and
pumpkins and chickens, remember the path, that has led from these to the
invention and production of agricultural implements, buggies,
steam-engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, the
management of drug stores and banks, has not been trodden without
contact with thorns and thistles. While we take pride in what we exhibit
as a result of our independent efforts, we do not for a moment forget
that our part in this exhibition would fall far short of your
expectations but for the constant help that has come to our educational
life, not only from the Southern States, but especially from Northern
philanthropists, who have made their gifts a constant stream of blessing
and encouragement.

The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of
social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the
enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result
of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No
race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long
in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges
of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared
for the exercises of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar
in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to
spend a dollar in an opera-house.

In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has given us
more hope and encouragement, and drawn us so near to you of the white
race, as this opportunity offered by the Exposition; and here bending,
as it were, over the altar that represents the results of the struggles
of your race and mine, both starting practically empty-handed three
decades ago, I pledge that in your effort to work out the great and
intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South you shall
have at all times the patient, sympathetic help of my race; only let
this be constantly in the mind that, while from representations 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
Southland a new heaven and a new earth.

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