White House hospitality toward African Americans

African Americans, including leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, were received at the White House by Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Coolidge and Cleveland; in 1798 John Adams 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]

Booker T. Washington dinner

Theodore Roosevelt, while governor of New York, had frequently had blacks to dinner and sometimes invited them to sleep over.[3] On 16 October 1901, shortly after occupying the White House, he invited his adviser, the African American spokesman Booker T. Washington, to dine with him and his family, and provoked an outpouring of condemnation from southern politicians and press.[4] This reaction affected subsequent White House practice, and no other African American was invited to dinner for almost thirty years.[5]

The following day, the White House released a statement headed, "Booker T Washington of Tuskegee, Alabama, dined with the President last evening." The response from the southern press and politicians was immediate, sustained and vicious. For example, Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi complained that the White House was now, "so saturated with the odor of nigger that the rats had taken refuge in the stable;" the Memphis Scimitar declared it "the most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States"[6] and on 25 October the Missouri Sedalia Sentinel published on its front page a poem entitled "Niggers in the White House", which ended with the president's daughter marrying a black man. The northern presses were more generous, acknowledging Washington's accomplishments and suggesting that the dinner was an attempt by Roosevelt to emphasize he was everybody's president.[7]

While some in the black community responded positively – such as Bishop Henry Turner who said of Washington, "You are about to be the great representative and hero of the Negro race, notwithstanding you have been very conservative" – other black leaders were less enthusiastic. William Monroe Trotter, a radical opponent of Washington, said the dinner showed him up as a hypocrite who supports social segregation between blacks and whites while he himself dines at the White House.[8]

The White House first responded to the outcry from the south by claiming that the meal had not occurred and that the Roosevelt women had not been at dinner with a black man, while some White House personnel said it was a luncheon not an evening meal.[5] Washington made no comment at the time.[9]

Jessie DePriest tea

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.

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]

The Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi legislatures issued condemnations. For example, 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 the poem, "Niggers in the White House," into a Senate 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.[10][11]

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]

See also

  • A Guest of Honor, the first opera created by Scott Joplin, based on Washington's dinner at the White House

Further reading

  • Day, Davis S. (Winter 1980). "Herbert Hoover and Racial Politics: The De Priest Incident". Journal of Negro History (Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.) 65 (1): 6–17. JSTOR 3031544. doi:10.2307/3031544. 
  • Davis, Deborah (2013). Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation. New York City: Simon and Schuster. ISBN . 
  • "The Night President Teddy Roosevelt Invited Booker T. Washington to Dinner". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (The JBHE Foundation, Inc) 35: 24–25. Spring 2002. JSTOR 3133821. 
  • Norrell, Robert J. (Spring 2009). "When Teddy Roosevelt Invited Booker T. Washington to Dine at the White House". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (The JBHE Foundation, Inc) 63: 70–74. JSTOR 40407606. 
  • Severn, John K.; William Warren Rogers (January 1976). "Theodore Roosevelt Entertains Booker T. Washington: Florida's Reaction to the White House Dinner". The Florida Historical Quarterly (Florida Historical Society) 54 (3): 306–318. JSTOR 30151288. 
  • White, Arthur O. (January 1973). "Booker T. Washington's Florida Incident, 1903-1904". The Florida Historical Quarterly (Florida Historical Society) 51 (3): 227–249. JSTOR 30151545. 


  1. ^ a b Lusane, Clarence (23 January 2013). The Black History of the White House. City Lights Publishers. pp. 253–4. ISBN . 
  2. ^ a b c d Jeansonne, Glen (2012). The Life of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker, 1928-1933. USA: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 306. ISBN . 
  3. ^ Lusane, Clarence (23 January 2013). The Black History of the White House. City Lights Publishers. p. 251. ISBN . When Roosevelt was governor of New York he had regularly had African Americans over for supper and even occasionally had invited them to spend the night. 
  4. ^ Gould, Louis L (28 November 2011). Theodore Roosevelt. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN . His first action in October 1901 was to invite the prominent black leader Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House... When the news of the social event became public, southern newspapers erupted with denunciations of Roosevelt's breach of the color line. 
  5. ^ a b Lusane, Clarence (23 January 2013). The Black History of the White House. City Lights Publishers. p. 256. ISBN . LCCN 2010036925. Although the controversy eventually died down, its impact shaped White House politics for decades. No black person would be invited to dinner at the White House again for nearly thirty years 
  6. ^ Lusane, Clarence (23 January 2013). The Black History of the White House. City Lights Publishers. p. 254. ISBN . 
  7. ^ Berlin, Edward A (1996). King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. Oxford University Press. p. 106. ISBN . The Sedalia Sentinel printed a poem on page one entitled "Niggers in the White House," which concludes with a black man marrying the President's daughter. (Note 65: SeS, Oct. 25, 1901, 1.) [...] Major newspapers in the north had a more charitable view. They recognized Washington's unique achievements and suggested that the invitation was Roosevelt's way of demonstrating he was president of all the people. 
  8. ^ Lusane, Clarence (23 January 2013). The Black History of the White House. City Lights Publishers. p. 255. ISBN . William Monroe Trotter rebuked the wizard of Tuskegee and called him a hypocrite for supporting social segregation between the races and then going to sup at the White House. 
  9. ^ Verney, Kevern J (3 April 2013). The Art of the Possible: Booker T. Washington and Black Leadership in the United States 1881–1925. Taylor and Francis. p. 38. ISBN . I did not give out a single interview and did not discuss the matter in any way. 
  10. ^ "Offers "Nigger" Poem". Evening Tribune. June 18, 1929. pp. 7–. 
  11. ^ "Blease Poetry is Expunged from Record". The Afro-American. 22 June 1929. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
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