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Jessie DePriest tea at the White House

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Jessie DePriest tea at the White House

In 1929, US First Lady Lou Hoover invited Jessie DePriest, the wife of black Republican Chicago congressman Oscar DePriest, to tea at the White House. Southern politicians and journalists responded with vitriolic attacks.

Background

Blacks, including leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, had been received at the White House by Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Coolidge and Cleveland. In 1798 President John Adams had dined in the White House with Joseph Bunel, a representative of the Haitian President, and his black wife,[1][2] and in 1901 Theodore Roosevelt had had Booker T. Washington to dinner.[1]

The Chicago district represented by Oscar DePriest had a reputation for corruption, and until then the couple had been shunned by Washington's high society. It was a White House tradition, though, for the first lady to entertain congressional wives at tea, and she and the president never considered snubbing DePriest. She invited DePriest to the last of a series of five teas, and made sure the other guests were women who would deal kindly with her.[2]

Reception

The Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi legislatures issued condemnations. Texas's only female state legislator, Margie Neal, raged, "Mrs Hoover has violated the most sacred social custom of the White House, and this should be condemned,"[2] and South Carolina Democratic Senator Coleman Blease inserted a poem entitled "Niggers in the White House" into a resolution which was read aloud on the floor of the United States Senate — though the resolution, including the poem, was by unanimous agreement excised from the Congressional Record due to protests from Republican senators.[3][4]

The Houston Chronicle, the Austin Times and the Memphis Commercial Appeal published scathing editorials. The Mississippi Jackson Daily News declared, "The DePriest incident has placed [the] President and Mrs. Hoover beyond the pale of social recognition for the Southern people."[2]

References

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Further reading

External links

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