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……………….?

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