Guest of Honor

Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation

Guest of Honor

In this revealing social history, one remarkable White House dinner becomes a lens through which to examine race, politics, and the lives and legacies of two of America’s most iconic figures.

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 sent shock waves through the nation. 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.
  • Atria Books | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439169827 | 
  • February 2013
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Guest of Honor includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


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

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About the Author

Deborah Davis
Photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Deborah Davis

Deborah Davis is the author of Fabritius and the Goldfinch; Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation; Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X; Party of the Century; and Gilded. She formerly worked as an executive, story editor, and story analyst for several major film companies. For more information, visit and follow along on Instagram @WarholRoadTrip.