Guest of Honor
Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to have dinner at the executive mansion with the First Family. The next morning, news that the president had dined with a black man—and former slave—sent shock waves through the nation. Although African Americans had helped build the White House and had worked for most of the presidents, not a single one had ever been invited to dine there. Fueled by inflammatory newspaper articles, political cartoons, and even vulgar songs, the scandal escalated and threatened to topple two of America’s greatest men.
In this smart, accessible narrative, one seemingly ordinary dinner becomes a window onto post–Civil War American history and politics, and onto the lives of two dynamic men whose experiences and philosophies connect in unexpected ways. Deborah Davis also introduces dozens of other fascinating figures who have previously occupied the margins and footnotes of history, creating a lively and vastly entertaining book that reconfirms her place as one of our most talented popular historians.
Read an Excerpt
Hale’s Ford, Virginia, was “about as near to nowhere as any locality gets to be.” That’s how Booker T. described the rural community in Franklin County where he was born in April 1856, or maybe ’57 or ’58—he was never sure of the year because the records kept by slaves were very sketchy. He wasn’t sure about his father, either, although rumor had it that he was a white man from a nearby plantation, possibly the Hatcher farm or the Ferguson place. His mother, Jane, cooked for her owners, the Burroughs family, and lived with her three children,...see more
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Reading Group Guide
At the turn of the twentieth century, racial tensions flared as African Americans struggled to adjust to a society that still carried many prejudices. African American statesmen and artists like Booker T. Washington, WEB DuBois, and Scott Joplin, were the first of many to fight for equality, each in his own way. Following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, the smart, brash, and impetuous young vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, found himself in the position of Commander-in-Chief. Roosevelt started an active correspondence with Booker T. Washington, who quickly became a valued advisor and confidant. In the same year, President Roosevelt invited Washington to have dinner with the First Family. The next morning, news that the President had dined at the White House with a black man—and former slave—sent shockwaves through the nation.
Linking the past and the present, Guest of Honor chronicles how one seemingly ordinary dinner became a defining moment for post-Civil War politics and provides insight into the lives of two dyna see more