The Cotton States and International Exposition

The Cotton States Exposition cost just one-ninth as much as the Chicago fair; its Midway was a quarter the size. Nevertheless, this fair was a remarkable achievement. Atlanta, a city of 75,000 people, had been ravaged by William Tecumseh Sherman's army 31 years earlier.

Atlanta staged the exposition in 1895 in a bid to attract national attention and to identify the city as the capital of the New South. when it held its exposition. Some 800,000 visitors toured a "fairyland" filled with electric lights, walked through a steam-powered textile mill, and witnessed one of the first public exhibitions of moving pictures. Visitors could also see Benjamin Franklin's cane and the Liberty Bell, which was transported from Philadelphia.

In return for $200,000 of federal funds, Atlanta agreed to construct a Negro Pavillion featuring paintings and sculptures by African American artists and highlighting "the progress made by the Negro since emancipation."

Today, the fair is best remembered for a speech by Booker T. Washington, a former slave and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Just a few months earlier, Frederick Douglass had died, and Washington would assume his position as the preeminent African American leader of his day until his death in 1915.

''In all things that are purely social we [blacks and whites] can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress,'' Washington said.

He went on:

''The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all privileges that will come to us must be then the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. ... It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared to exercise those privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is infinitely more important than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.''

Use the Booker T. Washington's Compromise Speech of 1895 by Alicia Gantt as an overview for this eXploration.

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1. Booker T. Washington's staunchest critic, W.E.B. DuBois, Harvard's first black Ph.D. and a founder of the NAACP, later wrote: ''Mr. Washington's programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.... In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negro's tendency to self assertion has been called forth; at this period, a policy of submission is advocated."

Does Washington, in his speech, accept second-class citizenship for blacks?

2. According to the articles, what was the public response to the Atlanta Exposition and to Washington's speech?

Resources for the Cotton States Exposition
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