This introductory chapter describes how Booker T. Washington cemented his status as the nation's most “responsible” black leader. Addressing the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, Washington outlined the proper role of blacks in the political economy of the New South. Less than a year before the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, the former slave-turned-principal of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute called upon members of his race to direct their attentions not to the rapid erosion of political and civil rights taking place throughout the south but to economic preparedness. Washington's speech, like his work at Tuskegee, proceeded from the view that neither blacks nor whites were ready for Afro-American equality. The freedmen and their descendants required time and guidance to equip themselves for the responsibilities of citizenship, while whites needed evidence of blacks' worthiness of inclusion in civil society.
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