Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation. By Deborah Davis. New York: Atria Books, 2012. 308 pp.
Deborah Davis was both inspired and intrigued by a portion of Senator John McCain's concession speech to President Barack Obama on election night on November 4, 2008. During the address, Senator McCain proffered: "A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to visit--to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now ... for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth." His remarks piqued the interest of Davis and led to her work on the story behind Washington's dinner at the White House.
The author begins by chronicling and juxtaposing the lives of Booker T. Washington (whom she casually refers to as "Booker T." throughout the manuscript) and President Theodore Roosevelt (casually referenced as "TR") from their births until their deaths. The 308-page book consists of 30 short chapters including an introduction and an epilogue, and proceeds in chronological sequence. As might be predicted, the reader is introduced to Booker T. during the time of his enslavement in Hales Ford, Virginia, and to TR during his upbringing in New York.
Davis spends roughly two-thirds of the book setting the context for the eventual dinner at the White House and the fallout that ensued shortly afterwards. A few of the more interesting chapters feature discussions on the Jim Crow South, challenges that Washington and Roosevelt faced raising their daughters, the assassination of President William McKinley, rodent infestation of the White House and the poor condition of the manse, and Washington's role as advisor to Roosevelt. Davis's discussion of Scott Joplin's ragtime opera, "A Guest of Honor," along with his connection to the White House affair, is also quite refreshing.
According to the author, Roosevelt invited Washington to dine with him and his family at the White House on October 16, 1901, representing a clear breach in the code of racial etiquette for those familiar with the ways of the South. Neither Washington nor Roosevelt anticipated the sort of backlash they experienced...