Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked the Nation
This highly readable, absorbing work of social history focuses on one small White House dinner party and its aftermath. In 1901, the president of the United States invited a leading educator, the most widely admired African American then alive, to dine with him. Booker T. Washington accepted the invitation, and spent a pleasant two and a half hours with Theodore Roosevelt and his family. From today’s vantage point, this looks like a nonevent, but thirty-six years after the Civil War, it was a breakthrough. Black Americans had occasionally conferred with U.S. presidents, but for a black man, a former slave, to be received as a dinner guest at the White House was unprecedented. Some people praised Roosevelt for tendering the invitation, but the most notable reaction, mainly from the South, was a wave of savage racist vitriol. The book’s quotations from newspaper editorials and elected officials make searing reading.
The author gives us vivid and insightful biographical sketches of Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, and identifies striking parallels in their lives. But what stands out in this book is its vibrant yet disturbing portrait of America at the beginning of the 20th century.