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Booker T. Washington c. 1900.

Library of Congress

Theodore Roosevelt became president after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. The early months of his administration were a tense period of trial and error as Roosevelt had not been elected president. Fond of dinners as a means of entertaining, the Roosevelts held them nearly every night over the last few months of 1901 and constructed the guest lists with an eye to politics. One of these early dinners put White House hospitality on the front pages. This dinner actually occurred a few days before the official period of mourning for McKinley had ended. On October 16, Roosevelt had among his guests the educator Booker T. Washington, whose autobiography, Up From Slavery, was then highly popular. Roosevelt often invited people to dinner to discuss public affairs when the day’s meeting calendar was too full. Washington arrived with an invitation at the north door promptly at eight. In the Blue Room he joined his fellow dinner guest, Philip B. Stewart of Colorado. Dinner was probably served in the State Dining Room since the party was in evening dress. The guests remembered a simple, cordial evening. The next morning following a news release of the White House guest list, the event sparked the hottest news since the McKinley assassination. Editorials in the South–but not only the South–were harsh in their criticism of Roosevelt. The furor over the dinner–the first time that an African American was entertained at the White House–revealed the structure’s symbolic power and the bigotry then at large in the nation.

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: William Seale, The President’s House, White House Historical Association, 1986; Henry Chase, "Memorable Visitors: Classic White House Encounters," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 26-33.