This Day in Georgia History
September 18, 1895
Cotton States Exposition of 1895 Opened
At sunset from his home in Massachusetts, Pres. Grover Cleveland pressed an electric switch that sent a message to Atlanta activating a steam machine and signaling soldiers to fire their batteries of cannon to officially open the Cotton States and International Exposition. Held in Piedmont Park, the exposition featured 6,000 exhibits, many of which were intended to promote Atlanta and Georgia. Also participating were a host of famous personalities, including Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show and John Philip Sousa, who composed the “King Cotton” march for the event and performed with his band for three weeks. The exposition, which lasted until December 31, attracted 800,000 visitors and both national and international press coverage. One of the most significant events of the opening day occurred at the Negro Building, where Booker T. Washington gave his famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech. In his remarks, Washington called on fellow blacks to accept their status for the time being and concentrate instead on improving their education and skills. Full equality would come in time, he predicted, when blacks were ready. Expectedly, many whites would praise Washington’s remarks, while many blacks - notably W.E.B. DuBois would not. Regardless of the speech, however, the Cotton States and International Exposition was the first major American public event to feature a prominent role for African Americans.