Main Content

Oscar De Priest’s election to Congress as a Republican representative from Chicago in 1928 created an interesting political and social dilemma for the White House. De Priest was the only black to serve in Congress during his three terms (1928-1935). Even before De Priest took his seat in 1929, Washington buzzed about the arrival of a black congressman and what this meant to the strict segregation that pervaded life in the capital. Several southern members refused office assignments adjacent to De Priest and the possible invitation of Mrs. De Priest to the traditional White House tea for congressional wives teas sparked controversy. Eventually, Lou Hoover arranged a separate tea party for Mrs. De Priest at the White House with a few chosen guests. However, the appearance of a black woman as a guest at the executive residence created a stir and drew strident protests from the South. As in 1901 with Booker T. Washington’s visit, the White House’s powerful role as a national symbol aroused the ire of Southerners who did not want the impression conveyed that the nation would sanction the social equality of the races.

First Lady Lou Hoover, c. 1920.

Library of Congress

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: Henry Chase, "Memorable Visitors: Classic White House Encounters," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 26-33.