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This Day (Once We Were Lost Edition)


On this day in 1907, Booker T. Washington gave a keynote address at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in Norfolk, using his remarks to praise the fair’s exhibit on African Americans. His speech is included in volume 9 of the Booker T. Washington Papers, published by the University of Illinois Press and online here—well, except not online today. So the best I can do is this quotation, which appears to have made the rounds in various Christian blogs (e.g.):

There are special reasons why we [the Negro people] should have a part in the Jamestown Exposition. It was near this spot, nearly three hundred years ago, that the first representatives of our race were brought into America. It is especially fitting, therefore, that since here we entered slavery that on the same spot we should show results both in slavery and in freedom. When our first representatives landed here, we were only 20 in number, now there are nearly ten million; when our first representatives landed here we had no uniform language, now we speak the English tongue. For the most part, we were pagan, now, we profess Christianity.

Washington has been labeled an accommodationist. Perhaps a better way of putting it is this: he wanted to improve the lives and prospects of African Americans within the political system rather than without, peacefully rather than through violence. This modus operandi also involved subscribing to various social values that, in retrospect, strike me as specious: that many peoples speaking many languages is somehow a bad thing; that adopting Christianity must somehow be a good thing. I, however, am not Booker T., and this is not 1907.
Anyway, the African American exhibit featured the work of sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, who became the first black woman to win a U.S. government commission. She was asked to build dioramas depicting African American life from 1619 until the years following the Civil War. You can find images of the dioramas here.
IMAGE: Booker T. Washington at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907 (Norfolk Public Library)

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