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Booker T. Washington dinner at the White House

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Booker T. Washington dinner at the White House

On 16 October 1901, shortly after moving into the White House, Theodore Roosevelt invited his advisor, the African American spokesman Booker T. Washington, to dine with him and his family, and provoked an outpouring of condemnation from southern politicians and press.[1] This reaction affected subsequent White House practice, and no other African American was invited to dinner for almost thirty years.[2]

Background

Roosevelt, while governor of New York, had frequently had black guests to dinner and sometimes invited them to sleep over.[3] Black people, including leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, had been received at the White House by Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes and Cleveland; and in 1798 John Adams had dined in the White House with Joseph Bunel, a representative of the Haitian President, and his black wife.[4][5]

Reception

The following day, the White House released a statement headed, "Booker T Washington of Tuskegee, Alabama, dined with the President last evening." The response from the southern press and politicians was immediate, sustained and vicious. For example, Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi complained that the White House was now, "so saturated with the odor of nigger that the rats had taken refuge in the stable;" the Memphis Scimitar declared it "the most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States"[6] and on 25 October the Missouri Sedalia Sentinel published on its front page a poem entitled "Niggers in the White House", which ended suggesting that either the president's daughter should marry Washington or his son one of Washington's relatives. The northern presses were more generous, acknowledging Washington's accomplishments and suggesting that the dinner was an attempt by Roosevelt to emphasize he was everybody's president.[7]

While some in the black community responded positively – such as Bishop Henry Turner who said to Washington, "You are about to be the great representative and hero of the Negro race, notwithstanding you have been very conservative" – other black leaders were less enthusiastic. William Monroe Trotter, a radical opponent of Washington, said the dinner showed him up as "a hypocrite who supports social segregation between blacks and whites while he himself dines at the White House".[8]

The White House first responded to the outcry from the south by claiming that the meal had not occurred and that the Roosevelt women had not been at dinner with a black man, while some White House personnel said it was a luncheon not an evening meal.[2] Washington made no comment at the time.[9]

See also

References

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Further reading

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