Booker, White House, Washington D.C. discussed on History That Doesn't Suck
A few minutes before 7 30 p.m.. A 46 year old man with close cropped hair, all of skin, and dressed in a smart black suit, is riding in a carriage through the streets of Washington D.C. to The White House. He's a tad anxious. Not that this is his first visit. No, no. In the month since William McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt took office, the new president has already made it clear to this educator, southerner, and most influential black Americans that his council is very much desired. TR has already had him over. But this is different. Tonight, this gentleman a mister Booker T. Washington is going to The White House as the U.S. president's invited thinner guest. Turning up 1600 Pennsylvania circular drive, the carriage comes to a stop under The White House's iconic, hillard, port cocher. What thoughts must be going through Booker's mind? A natural diplomat, he frequently declined social invitations from why associates to avoid a possible misstep in this fraught, segregated era of Jim Crow. But one does not say no to the president of the United States. So, the tuskegee institute principle acts like the honored presidential guest that he is. Thinking his colleague whitfield McKinley for the ride, Booker then ascends The White House steps and walks past the black door keepers as he enters the executive mansion through its glass paneled entrance. The roosevelts might be a blue blooded American family, but there's nothing stuffy about this dinner table. Take First Lady, Edith Roosevelt. Per usual, Edith easily carries the conversation, even as she sits between and keeps an eye on her two young troublemakers. 7 year old Archie and almost four year old Quentin. I wonder which small creatures they've brought to the table tonight. A mouse, a snake. Yeah, there are animal loving Theodore Roosevelt's children all right. Kermit and Ethel are also present, chatting it up, but no one talks through dinner quite like our bespectacled mustachioed rough rider president TR. His speech may only slow down at the sight of servers with more of annual rourke's cooking. I can just picture his toothy grain growing as he gets a whiff of her famous biscuits, known as fat rascals. Oh, that smells good. And to either side of TR sits his two guests. His friend from Colorado, Philip Stewart, and of course, Booker T. Washington. Details on tonight are sparse, but I imagine Booker's great sense of humor and conversational skills are coming to bear. His nerves have faded. It seems the food and company alike are exquisite. With dinner over, the children head off to bed and the gentlemen make their way to the red room. The subject of discussion soon turns to the very issue on which Booker serves as an adviser to the president. Southern politics. There's no doubt that they mention teddy's recent victory. His recess appointment of former Alabama governor Thomas G Jones has a federal judge. Tom might be a former confederate officer and a Democrat, but he's an honorable man, opposed to lynching and in favor of educating black Americans. Ah, that's why Booker recommended him. And now the south loves TR. Aided by Booker's council and his southern blood from his Georgia born mother, teddy, the half southerner, as he likes to call himself, just might be the man to move the needle on race and break the Democratic Party's solid south. Or at least break Republican Party boss, Mark Hannah's hold on the GOP's southern delegates before the 1904 election. The men discussed their lofty dreams for the south until 10 p.m., then say good night, so Booker can catch the last train in New York. The next day, Booker is going about his business in the Big Apple when he notices a one liner in the New York tribune, mentioning he dined with the president. Huh. Well, both he and teddy knew last night was somewhat significant. It was, after all, the first time a black man, a former slave no less, dined with a president in The White House. Teddy had even questioned briefly if he should invite Booker. But the mere fact that he wondered filled him with shame and solidified his resolve to do so. Yet, as Booker carries on in New York City and teddy does so in Washington D.C., it seems neither man fully grasps their dinners significance. There are a few exceptions, but newspapers south of the mason Dixon line come after both men. Hard. In Virginia, the Richmond dispatch proclaims, quote, Roosevelt dines a darkie. In Georgia, the Atlanta constitution complains that, quote, both politically and socially, Roosevelt proposed to coddle the sons of ham, close quote. In North Carolina, the custodian gazette and the north carolinian. Both carry an editorial that shouts in all caps, quote away with Roosevelt and Negro equality, away with republicanism and all its abhorrent concomitants. But it isn't the death of his hoped for revival of republicanism in the south that worries teddy the most. It's the death threats, a South Carolina senator Benjamin Tillman announces, quote, the actions of president Roosevelt in entertaining that will necessitate our killing a thousand in the south before they will learn their place again. Close quote. TR is baffled. Heartbroken. He tells a reporter, I had no thought whatever of anything, save of having a chance of showing some little respect to a man whom I cordially esteem as a good citizen and good American. Instead, teddy has pandemonium, as vulgar cartoons of his wife Edith circulate, opposing newspaper slam each other and, though a failure, a higher assassin goes after Booker. The president has learned a hard lesson. Though he'll continue to counsel with Booker, teddy will never again break bread with the esteemed tuskegee educator, or any black person for that matter. In The White House.