September 18

The Atlanta Cotton States & International Exposition

September 18, 1895 - Atlanta, Georgia

On this day in 1895, President Grover Cleveland threw an electric switch at his Massachusetts home and officially opened the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition.

Civic leaders wanted to promote Georgia’s economic development and showcase Atlanta as the resurgent heart of the New South. 800,000 people visited the 6,000 exhibits. They saw the Liberty Bell, and celebrities, like Buffalo Bill and “March King” John Philip Sousa, who wrote “the King Cotton March” especially for the occasion.

On opening day, Booker T. Washington delivered his controversial “Atlanta Compromise” speech. He urged fellow African-Americans to stop agitating for social and political equality and focus instead on economic opportunities. White listeners gave him a standing ovation, but W.E.B. Du Bois and other black leaders denounced Washington for submitting to segregation and inequality.

Washington’s speech was a key moment in civil rights history. The site of the exposition is now Piedmont Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a vibrant part of Atlanta and a silent witness to the New South’s growing pains on September 18, 1895, Today in Georgia History.