Theodore Roosevelt’s Disastrous Dinner with Booker T. Washington.

by Daniel Russ on December 13, 2011

President Theodore Roosevelt

Booker T Washington was one of the most influential African Americans in United States history. Born into servitude to a slave and a white father in Virginia, he established himself as a powerful articulate orator. He was able to acquire advocates among American legislative leaders, philanthropists, the rich and influential and of course millions of disenfranchised Blacks.


Washington was able to make money and raise funds and did much to finance improved schools around Alabama. He established the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and even bought an unused plantation to hold classes.


Well, Theodore Roosevelt, just sworn in as President after the assassination of McKinley, decided to dine with Booker T. Washington. At this time in the South, Blacks were considered second class citizen and interlopers. Jim Crow laws fully crushed Black people, and what the oppressive laws couldn’t accomplish, violence finished.


In typical fashion, the right wing Southern press decided to go after Roosevelt for…drum roll…inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House. The first shot across the bow came from the Memphis Scimitar:


“The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States  was committed by the President when he invited a n****r to dine with him at the White House…it was only recently that the President boasted that his mother was a Southern woman, and that he was half Southern by reason of that fact.  By inviting his mother to his table he pays his mother small duty…”


And in typical fashion newspapers all over the south piled on:



Roosevelt Dines A Darky

A Rank Negrophilist

Our Coon-Flavored President


Senator Benjamin R. Tillman said:


“The action of the president in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand n****rs in the South before they learn their place again.”


Roosevelt was incensed but realized that having dinner with Booker T. Washington was all he needed to do to see his high regard evanesce.


As they say: Plus ça change, plus ça la meme chose.



Booker T. Washington


Source: Theodore Rex, 2001, Edmond Morris Random House.




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