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ENGL 3550 Lecture Notes - Atlanta Exposition Speech, Ralph Ellison, Amazon River

Course Code
ENGL 3550
Scott Schau

of 4
ENGL 3550
Friday, February 15, 2013
Today’s agenda
- N.B. updated guidelines for midterm test on courselink
o Practice question via Quizzes link on courselink
o We will talk about mid-term after break
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (con’d)
- Power relations
o Politics
Double consciousness
o And sexual politics
o Expressionism
- (“Epilogue”)
Political figures
- Journey from isolation and victimhood to attempts at solidarity and resistance
o Union meeting in factory
o The Brotherhood
o Black political figures
Booker T. Washington
- Figure from early 20th century
- Political voice of black people
- Accommodation, assimilation
- Turn-of-the-twentieth-century educator
o Tuskegee institute, Alabama college he founded that Ellison went to and is referenced
in book
- See 15, 18, 29-30 (speech), 36, 305ff
Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech, 1895 (recorded 1903)
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 must convey to you, Mr.
President and Directors, and Secretaries and 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 opportunities here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial
ENGL 3550
progress. Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at
the top instead of the bottom, that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than
real estate or industrial skill, that the political convention of some teaching had more attraction than
starting a dairy farm or a stockyard.
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, send us water!”
went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third
and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the
distressed vessel, at last heeding 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 preservating friendly relations
with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: “Cast down your bucket
where you are.” Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom
you are surrounded. To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and
strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I have
said to my own race: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down among the eight millions of
Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved
treacherous meant the ruin of your fireside. Cast down your bucket among these people who have
without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities,
brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, just to make possible this magnificent
representation of the progress of the South.
Narrator is Washington at points but is not Washington at the same time.
Similarities between their speeches.
- 1903 recording of the speech above. Link is above to listen to the speech.
- 1895 original speech
- Page 29-30 in book “cast down your bucket where you are”
Signifyin(g) on political figures
- Vernacular African American trope
- Repetition with reversal
- Signifying is black double- voicedness; because it always entails formal revision and an
intertextual relation” – Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A theory of African-
American Literary Criticism (1988), 51
Black double Consciousness
- Cf. W.E.B. Du Bois on “the veil” and “double-consciousness”
- It is particular sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self
through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in
amused contempt and pity. One ever fells his two-nessan American, a Negro; two souls, two
thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged
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strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. --- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Marcus Garvey
- Resistance, separatism
- Activist leader, 1920’s (see 272, 367)Black Solidarity
o Universal Negro Improvement Association
o Black Nationalism, Back-to-Africa movement
- See Ras the Exhorter (195, 364 ff.)
- Ras is and isn’t Marcus Garvey
o Doubleness
o He looks like and sounds like Marcus Garvey but isn’t exactly so.
Sexual Politics