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Guest of Honor

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Overview


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—and former slave—sent shock waves through the nation. Although African Americans had helped...

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Overview


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—and former slave—sent shock waves through the nation. Although African Americans had helped build the White House and had worked for most of the presidents, not a single one had ever been invited to dine there. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this engaging social history, Davis (Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X) uses the story of a dinner to depict the friendship between two of America’s most impressive leaders: Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. Booker T. and TR came from extraordinarily disparate backgrounds—the first born a slave, the second born a member of America’s highest social tier. Early in their careers, however, the visionary educator and the politician formed a fascinating and mutually beneficial relationship that granted each a leg up in their respective spheres—that is, until Booker T. joined TR and his family for dinner at the White House. What should have been an important step forward in racial equality ended up being so aggravating to Southern racists that the brilliant partnership between the two men was forever thrown off its tracks, and blacks in the South became even more vulnerable to violent attacks from whites fearful of “Negro Aspiration.” In fluid prose and with clear respect for her subject matter, Davis paints a vivid picture of race relations at the turn of the 20th century—a story resonating with today’s fraught political and racial landscape. Agent: Scott Waxman, the Waxman Agency. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
On Oct. 16, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited a black man, Booker T. Washington, to dinner--and set off a scandal. It was a typical gesture for the impulsive Roosevelt, who had been made vice president in hopes that his progressive ideals would wither in the largely impotent position. But the assassination of William McKinley made Roosevelt president, and the Republican establishment's nightmares began. Washington was the embodiment of the rags-to-riches American dream, an ex-slave risen to become the head of the Tuskegee Institute. Davis (Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort, 2009, etc.) weaves together the two men's biographies with a portrait of their era--simultaneously a time of immense progress and widespread bigotry. Roosevelt was convinced that the nation's growth required African-Americans to take a fuller role in national affairs; he also saw the black vote in the South as a key ingredient of Republican power. Shortly after assuming the presidency, he began quietly to consult Washington on political appointments in the South. The dinner seemed a natural outgrowth of that relationship, and it went smoothly enough. However, after an Atlanta reporter wrote about it, the South erupted in fury; a line had been crossed. The dinner became an excuse for lynchings and other racial persecutions and led to a cooling of what had been an important working relationship. Some progressive blacks, including W.E.B. Du Bois, criticized the dinner as setting back racial relations. On the other hand, Scott Joplin used it as the theme of an opera, A Guest of Honor. Davis gives a clear overview of race relations in the closing decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, with plenty of additional detail on the times. A well-researched, highly readable treatment of an important era in racial relations, encapsulated in the meeting of two of the era's most significant men.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616376222
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio Pa
  • Publication date: 10/28/2012
  • Format: Other

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