October 16, 1901 – Booker T. Washington Becomes the First Black Man to Dine at The White House

Newly sworn-in President Theodore Roosevelt shocked the nation by inviting Booker T. Washington to dinner on October 16, 1901. At the time, Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, was quite popular. The President’s wife, daughter, his three sons, and at least one other guest also attended the dinner.

Booker T. Washington in 1903

Booker T. Washington in 1903

Other blacks had been invited to the White House before, but never for a meal: dining at the same table implied social equality.

A furor ensued, and an assassin even went to Tuskegee to kill Washington. According to the White House Historical Association:

Many people were furious that Roosevelt would do such a thing. The president, only in office for one month, did not think there was anything wrong with having dinner with Washington, who he called “a good citizen and a good American.” But Roosevelt never invited an African-American to a White House dinner again. He would meet Washington again, and would sometimes invite black officials to White House receptions. But even a leader as bold as Roosevelt was afraid to anger an American public that was not yet ready to accept black equality. Roosevelt learned a lesson about the strength of the White House as symbol.”

You can read more about this seminal event in the book Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis, 2012.

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