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I was searching for an alternative to the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. when I came across this provocative pair of texts featuring two other African-American powerhouses of advocacy and rhetoric. My students had worked with the various MLK speeches many times throughout middle and high school and I wanted to offer them a fresh perspective. This lesson proved incredibly effective!
This text set centers on Washington's "Atlanta Compromise" speech given before the Atlanta Cotton Exposition and Du Bois' oppositional response to Washington from his treatise The Souls of Black Folk. As Reconstruction continued to drag on with no real progress, Washington laid out his plan for revitalizing the South and incorporating African-Americans into the existing culture. Many students do not realize that there were dozens of plans and ideas and no one could really seem to agree on anything regarding these issues. This lack of a solid plan coupled with black disenfranchisement, and lack of education and experience, left a confused population, unsure of how to proceed and whom to trust. These speeches reveal some of the opposing viewpoints at play during this interesting era of American history.
The set contains the two speeches with guiding questions and answer keys, links to two pertinent videos, two related poems for students to investigate independently, and a reader response essay assignment with rubric. All documents are fully editable. Washington's speech is relatively simple and easy to understand. It is heavy on metaphor and repetition. Du Bois' essay is much more complicated and dense. Depending on your students' abilities, you may need to provide additional scaffolding and clarification. The lesson took me four full class periods to cover with my 11 Honors students.
Key words: rhetoric, reconstruction, Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, African American, Black culture, civil rights, reader response