Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Keeping the Press in Perspective

I'm reading Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris' second volume in his study of America's youngest president, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. This volume covers the years of his two presidential terms, beginning in 1901. One of Roosevelt's first acts as President was to invite America's most prestiguous and well-known Negro (as they were known back then), Booker T. Washington, to dine at the White House. It was the first time that a black had dined there officially and it caused quite a stir across America. Southern newspaper were vitriolic.

For his example, Morris found an editorial quote from the old Memphis Scimitar! This was one of the ancestors to the modern Commercial Appeal. Here's what they had to say:
The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United Staes was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.

It is only very recently that President Roosevelt boasted that his mother was a Southern woman, and that he is half Southern by reason of that fact. By inviting a nigger to his table he pays his mother small duty.... No Southern woman with a proper self-respect would now accept an invitation to the White House, nor would President Roosevelt be welcomed today in Southern homes. He has not inflamed the anger of the Southern people; he has excited their disgust.
Posted just as a reminder that simply because the solons at the local paper say something, doesn't mean it's always right, or even decent.

Historical note: it was the last time, for many years more, that a black dined in the White House.

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