Up from Slavery: An Autobiography HTML version

The Atlanta Exposition Address
The Atlanta Exposition, at which I had been asked to make an address as a representative
of the Negro race, as stated in the last chapter, was opened with a short address from
Governor Bullock. After other interesting exercises, including an invocation from Bishop
Nelson, of Georgia, a dedicatory ode by Albert Howell, Jr., and addresses by the
President of the Exposition and Mrs. Joseph Thompson, the President of the Woman's
Board, Governor Bullock introduce me with the words, "We have with us to-day a
representative of Negro enterprise and Negro civilization."
When I arose to speak, there was considerable cheering, especially from the coloured
people. As I remember it now, the thing that was uppermost in my mind was the desire to
say something that would cement the friendship of the races and bring about hearty
cooperation between them. So far as my outward surroundings were concerned, the only
thing that I recall distinctly now is that when I got up, I saw thousands of eyes looking
intently into my face. The following is the address which I delivered:--
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
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 heading 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