Monday, November 05, 2012

A Big Stink - Guest of Honor

"A Big Stink" is the Chapter title on page 203 of Guest of Honor by Deborah Davis.  Booker T. Washington was the guest of honor at a White House dinner hosted by Theodore Roosevelt on October 16, 1901.  The following day the Washington Post  had one line mentioning the event.  The Atlanta Constitution mentioned 4 important facts.  Firstly, the President had Booker T. at the White House for dinner.  Secondly, all the Roosevelt family was present at the table. Thirdly, Booker T. was in evening dress.  Finally, Booker T. was the first Negro ever entertained at the White House.

By October 17th, the language of the press in the South had changed for the worse. Concerns about miscegenation and the "Negro Aspiration" dominated in the South.   "....this is white man's country. President Roosevelt has committed a blunder that is worse than a crime." Roosevelt, in the minds of the Southerners, had subjected his womenfolk to the indignity of dining at the same table as a man of color. He had undermined family values in America merely by dining with Booker T.

Booker T.'s work as a respected educator was supposedly undone.  He was ridiculed and the negative language extended to Booker T's eldest daughter and the Roosevelt children.   This bit on the President's children reminded me of the big stink made in 2009 about an 11 year old Malia Obama wearing a simple T-shirt with a peace sign.

Even the black newspapers portrayed the dinner in a negative way.  The Charleston Messenger chastised Booker T. claiming that race relations in the South were wonderful before Booker T. came along and messed things up by accepting the dinner invitation.

The post dinner discussion even spread to Europe.  I am on page 217 and I am enjoying this fascinating period of social history as presented by Deborah Davis.

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