Booker T. Washington's famous racial reconciliation speech

Bill Federer

On the third of his four voyages, Columbus sailed south along the west coast of Africa before heading west across the Atlantic Ocean.

There he was caught in the "doldrums," a notorious condition near the equator, called the "horse latitudes," where there is intense heat and no wind.

The origin of the term "horse latitudes" came later, when ships sailing to the New World were stranded in the "doldrums" for weeks.

As they baked in the sun and ran out of scarce drinking water, sailors reportedly pushed overboard the horses they were transporting.

After Columbus drifted aimlessly for eight days in the doldrums, and running out of drinking water, he prayed and vowed that if the winds returned, he would name the first land he saw after the Holy Trinity.

The winds returned and on JULY 31, 1498, Columbus sighted an island off the coast of Venezuela which coincidentally had three peaks rising from the bay.

He obtained fresh water for his sailors and in the process was the first European to see South America.

Columbus named the island Trinidad in honor of the Holy Trinity.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described a ship caught in the doldrums in his lyrical poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," 1798.

A ship was lost in the ice of Antarctica, but was providentially led out of it by a larger sea-bird, an albatross.

Disregarding its help, the captain shot the albatross, and brought a curse upon them:

"With my cross-bow,

I shot the albatross."

Though they escaped the ice, the ship was then stranded in the doldrums near the equator as punishment for the captain killing the albatross:

"Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot – Oh Christ!

That ever this should be.

Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs,

Upon the slimy sea."

The dying crew blamed the captain and hung the dead albatross around his neck:

"Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the albatross

About my neck was hung."

When the captain finally repented of his misdeed, the dead albatross fell from off his neck, and the wind supernaturally began to blow:

"The air is cut away before,

And closes from behind."

When the captain spotted his homeland, he thought he was seeing a dream:

"Oh! Dream of joy! Is this indeed

The light-house top I see?

Is this the hill? Is this the kirk?

Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o'er the harbour-bar,

And I with sobs did pray—

O let me be awake, my God!

Or let me sleep alway."\

After reaching land, the captain then spends the rest of his life wandering and telling the story of his crime, repentance and salvation.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge concluded his poem:

"He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all."

Booker T. Washington, the President of Tuskegee Institute, referred to a story of a ship caught in the doldrums in his famous address to the International Exposition in Atlanta, September 18, 1895, as recorded in Up From Slavery (1901).

Urging racial reconciliation, he began:

"Atlanta was literally packed, at the time, with people from all parts of the country, and with representatives of foreign governments, as well as with military and civic organizations.

The afternoon papers had forecasts of the next day's proceedings in flaring headlines. All this tended to add to my burden. I did not sleep much that night.

The next morning, before day, I went carefully over what I planned to say. I also kneeled down and asked God's blessing upon my effort.

Right here, perhaps, I ought to add that I make it a rule never to go before an audience, on any occasion, without asking the blessing of God upon what I want to say ..."

Washington continued:

"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, water; send us water!' ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.'

And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.'

The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heading the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River."

The Amazon River is considered he longest river in the world, stretching across 4,345 miles.

Where it enters the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazon is approximately 110 miles wide, discharging up to 11 million cubic feet of water per second.

The Amazon River is so powerful that it pushes a stream of fresh water, 100 miles wide, out into the ocean for 250 miles.

Booker T. Washington continued his Atlanta address:

"To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating 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 in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded ..."

He continued:

"To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits of the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say 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."

Booker T. Washington wrote:

"The man is unwise who does not cultivate in every manly way the friendship and goodwill of his next-door neighbor, whether he be black or white."

He wrote in Up From Slavery (1901):

"Great men cultivate love ... Only little men cherish a spirit of hatred."

Booker T. Washington challenged:

"Opportunities never come a second time, nor do they wait for our leisure."