Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Guest of Honor

by Deborah Davis

This slim volume is an account of what happened when Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker T.  Washington to have dinner with him and his family at the White House.

It also, in the  initial chapters, recounts the lives of both men - Booker T. who was born a slave and educated himself and TR who was born an aristocrat from a monied background. I had already read much about TR but very little about Booker T. The biographical accounts for both men are extraordinary - just as these two men themselves were.

The news of the dinner, which occurs well into the book, was received by the public as scandalous - even in the North and especially in the South. The general public was stirred into a frenzy by the media, (sounds familiar), which built up and kept the ‘scandal’ going with scurrilous cartoons and text.

Both men were astounded by the ruckus - even Book T. who was used to ‘walking on eggs’ where whites were concerned.  Though in England, he had been invited to Tea by Queen Victoria, he expected no such respect in his home country. TR however was surprised and appalled. He had been using Booker T. as a consultant on the appointment of southerners to various government jobs in an attempt to exclude the most intractable racists. The relationship was not publicly known but after the dinner brouhaha, it continued with greater secrecy.

Now, one hundred years later, we have a black president living in the White House. Things have changed. Right? They have, haven’t they……………….?

The Glory and The Dream

by William Manchester

Published in 1973, it is now out of print and accordingly is relatively high priced. Luckily I snagged this tome from a used book website for a pittance. When it was delivered, I was intimidated by its size. Not only was it two thick volumes but the text, though not small, was dense and the paragraphs long. Formidable! I ‘tackled’ it and found that each evening, I looked forward to reading it, as one would a good novel.

It covers our American history from 1933 to 1973 - forty very eventful years encompassing the Great Depression and three wars. Since I was born in 1931, all the historical names - places, politicians, events - were familiar to me. What was fascinating were the nuances and machinations behind these events. Sometimes the details were jaw dropping. "I didn’t know that" - went through my mind many times as I read accounts of  the background of events I remembered. The author, who died in 2004, explored the culture of the times as well as events and politics. Those parts are great fun.

The Depression, Roosevelt, World War II, Truman, the atom bomb, the Korean War, Eisenhower, the years of post war affluence, Kennedy, Viet Nam, Johnson, Nixon. It covers the McCarthy era with an account of how everyone was cowed by the man who was an obvious charlatan. Even the United States Army backed off over special treatment demanded for David Schine, one of McCarthy’s minions. It was attorney Joseph Welch who eventually brought McCarthy down with the words “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

The politics then was as dirty as it is now. Some things never change. In a sense, it’s a ‘tell all’ book because it records all the political maneuvering behind decisions through these forty years and the social changes in mores, manners and morals. The latter passages have an almost ‘gossipy’ feel.

The book ends with Watergate which is presented here as an incredibly ‘bollixed’ up plan that - in detail - reads like a Keystone Cops comedy of errors. Hindsight shows it as terminal stupidity which was destined for failure from the beginning and it was so unnecessary, since Nixon was at the height of his popularity. The book ends before Ford’s presidency. I closed it with regret and wished for more.