Wash­ing­ton drew 5,000 to park

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Barnes

On Sept. 29, 1911, the cel­e­brated or­a­tor, author, ed­u­ca­tor and pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Booker T. Wash­ing­ton spoke to a very large crowd in Austin at Wooldridge Square. The ex-slave and founder of the Tuskegee In­sti­tute came at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Rev. L.L. Camp­bell of St. John Or­phan­age and Ebenezer Bap­tist Church.

“He started his day at the St. John Or­phan­age,” said Ted Eubanks, an Austin cer­ti­fied in­ter­pre­tive plan­ner and her­itage in­ter­preter. “There is a photo of him hav­ing break­fast there. He then vis­ited both Hus­ton and Til­lot­son col­leges be­fore speak­ing at Wooldridge Square in the evening. The Texas Leg­is­la­ture had de­nied him per­mis­sion to speak in the Capi­tol, so Mayor A.P. Wooldridge in­vited him to speak at the new park in Wooldridge Square in­stead.”

News­pa­per re­ports put the size of the crowd of mostly African-Amer­i­cans at 5,000, this at a time when the area’s pop­u­la­tion hov­ered around 35,000. To make a not too far-fetched com­par­i­son, that would be like at­tract­ing 286,000 cit­i­zens from

our metro pop­u­la­tion of 2 mil­lion to hear a speech to­day. That would re­quire a hall three times the size of Royal-Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

In­tro­duced by the mayor, Wash­ing­ton, a pro­po­nent of racial con­cil­i­a­tion, ar­gued against the Great Mi­gra­tion of ru­ral African-Amer­i­cans to North­ern cities and urged blacks to re­main in the South and es­pe­cially on farms.

More prob­lem­atic from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, Wash­ing­ton had, in 1895, struck the un­writ­ten “At­lanta Com­pro­mise” with white South­ern lead­ers. In ex­change for ed­u­ca­tion and due process in law, blacks in the South would con­tinue to work and bend to white po­lit­i­cal con­trol and ab­jure so­cial jus­tice ac­tivism.

Wash­ing­ton’s ideas in­flu­enced Mayor Wooldridge and some Austin black lead­ers, Eubanks said, and, sub­se­quently, helped shape the 1928 ur­ban plan that led to a sep­a­rate Ne­gro District in East Austin, along with promised civic ameni­ties not al­ways de­liv­ered. It, of course, also led to stricter seg­re­ga­tion for decades and lin­ger­ing in­equities to­day.

At noon the 29th of this month, a smaller crowd is ex­pected at Wooldridge Square for a 107th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of the big speech. Spec­trum The­atre Com­pany will recre­ate Wash­ing­ton’s speech, and to­day’s lead­ers will add their thoughts be­fore Eubanks gives a tour of the area around the square, in­clud­ing the site of the First (Col­ored) Bap­tist Church, where the Austin His­tory Cen­ter now sits. The event is backed by Down­town Austin Al­liance, Friends of Wooldridge Square, Travis County His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion and the Austin His­tory Cen­ter.

“We will be not only talk­ing about Wash­ing­ton the man, but we will also delve into the lost his­to­ries of Wooldridge Square, es­pe­cially African-Amer­i­can his­to­ries,” said Eubanks, who has been work­ing on a col­lab­o­ra­tive project about down­town his­tory called Our Austin Story. “I could make the ar­gu­ment that Wash­ing­ton’s visit in 1911 rep­re­sents one of the sem­i­nal events in Austin his­tory. Not only did the city re­spond in over­whelm­ing num­bers ... Wash­ing­ton’s in­flu­ence on city lead­ers, es­pe­cially A.P. Wooldridge, can still be seen to­day.”

CONGRESS LI­BRARY OF

Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, shown in 1894, at­tracted a crowd of mostly AfricanAmer­i­cans to a 1911 speech in Austin’s Wooldridge Square that news­pa­per re­ports es­ti­mated at 5,000 peo­ple, this at a time when the area’s pop­u­la­tion hov­ered around 35,000. To make a not too far­fetched com­par­i­son, that would be like at­tract­ing 286,000 cit­i­zens from our metro pop­u­la­tion of 2 mil­lion to hear a speech to­day. That would re­quire a hall three times the size of Royal-Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

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