Close to a main entrance of Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s equivalent of Central Park, sits a marker at the site where Booker T. Washington delivered his famous “Cast down your bucket” speech in 1895. In his speech, which was praised by southern whites, Washington urged blacks and whites in the South to work together to build the region’s economy. He argued blacks should tacitly accept restrictions on their civil rights. Read the speech here. The speech crystallized Wasington’s view on racial compromise, a view that would later be openly challenged by W.E.B. Du Bois, then a professor in Atlanta, in The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903. The two views divided black political activists for years. During the “Red Summer” of 1919, Du Bois’s view — which urged black people to fight for political and legal equality — quickly dominated black political activity and shaped civil rights activism for decades to come.
“Great as are our human differences and capabilities there is not the slightest scientific reason for assuming that a given human being of any race or sex cannot reach normal, human development if he is granted a reasonable chance. This is, of course, denied. It is denied so volubly and so frequently and with such positive conviction that the majority of unthinking people seem to assume that most human beings are not human and have no right to human treatment or human opportunity. All this goes to prove that human beings are, and must be, woefully ignorant of each other. It always startles us to find folks thinking like ourselves. We do not really associate with each other, we associate with our ideas of each other, and few people have either the ability or courage to question their own ideas.”
Du Bois prepared the manuscript for Darkwater in 1919, during the height of the Red Summer.