1901 – Booker T. Washington dines at the White House

Booker T. Washington was one of the greatest politcal leaders of black Americans in the post-Civil War era. Despite not actually having the vote himself, he was a consumate politician. One biographer describes him as having “advised, networked, cut deals, made threats, pressured, punished enemies, rewarded friends, greased palms, manipulated the media, signed autographs, read minds with the skill of a master psychologist, strategized, raised money, always knew where the camera was pointing, traveled with an entourage, waved the flag with patriotic speeches, and claimed to have no interest in partisan politics.”

In 1901, he was accorded a signal honour when he was invited to dine at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the very first black leaders to be recognised in this manner. This was a highly controversial decision at the time, and occasioned some truly terrifying displays of racism, notably that of Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, who said that “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.” His sentiments were, unfortunately, not uncommon. Washington would continue his struggle until his death in 1915.

Referenced in:

Can You Blame the Colored Man? — Gus Cannon