“Theodore Roosevelt is President of the United States.
He is President of all the people.
He is a true American.
He stands for all colors, creeds and social conditions.
He is an influential factor in his own administration.
Marquis Ito is a Japanese.
He dined with President Roosevelt.
So did Booker T. Washington.
Marquis Ito is not lighter in hue than Mr. Washington, nor does he represent more of intellect, culture and personal worth than the ‘Wizard of Tuskegee.’
Nobody thought anything wrong about a Japanese dining at the White House.
When a Negro American enjoys a courtesy that his birthright guarantees — why, that’s all wrong!
The whole episode is as funny as a farce.
The funniest thing about the matter is that any notice should have been taken of such an ordinary occurrence as two gentlemen enjoying dinner while discussing a few points of public business.
It is not asserted that Mr. Washington ate with his knife or disregarded the presence of the sugar spoon.
Editor Henry Watterson aimed to be facetious.
He thinks he detected the odor of possum and sweet potatoes.
He also imagines that our ‘Rough Rider President’ is getting ready to raise large quantities of the stuff that comes from a very hot place with a short name.
Editor Watterson hits the bull’s eye when he confesses that President Roosevelt is ‘true to his political religion’ — and,
‘A lineal descendant of Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison, wearing the mantle of Theodore Parker and brandishing the sword of Joshus Giddings,’ says the bibulous Kentuckian.
We are glad ’tis so!
Mr. Watterson visited the White House once.
Grover Cleveland was the Chief Magistrate then.
Watterson didn’t call again.
‘The Southern people are wondering if sweet potatoes and ‘possum are to become features of the White House menu,’ says the esteemed Washington Post.
The Post ‘ducked’ the main dinner proposition and flies into a mock fit through an ill-founded fear that Booker T. Washington might accept a seat in the Cabinet.
Everybody is talking about Roosevelt and Washington this week.
The Atlanta Constitution is in a state of wild alarm, but the New Orleans Picayune is complacent.
The Picayune simply wonders what the President will do next.
Roosevelt has ‘got ’em guessing.’
He will keep them so.
The 14th Amendment is a fact.
It is to be enforced and ought to be.
Disenfranchisement is a game two can play at — when you come to think of it.
Prof. Jess Lawson delivered the Roosevelt brochure to Mr. Washington, but didn’t have any idea that he was carrying around a high explosive, loaded to the muzzle.
Dr. W. A. Croflut, scholar, journalist and humanitarian, sized up the situation last Sunday at the Second Baptist Lyceum.
He pointed out that ‘social equality’ is the right any man has to extend or refuse an invitation to individuals of a satisfactory character and that social equality ought not to be confused with personal rights guarenteed by law.
A return to ‘stalwartism’ of Grant, Conkling, Logan and Edmunds is needed by the republican party.
Croquetry with the South is all right if not carried too far.
The Negro objects to being the lamb to be led to slaughter upon the altar of commercialism, expansion and national harmony.
Martyrdom in the 20th Century is a bad investment.
The principals in this play of gastronomics met again at Yale.
The private conversation would have been worth a mint of money could it have been overheard by some enterprising newsgatherer on the New York ‘yellows.’
It now develops that President Jefferson entertained a Negro, Benjamin Banneker, at the White House once upon a time. Jefferson was America’s greatest democrat and wrote the disregarded Declaration of Independence.
And it’s all over now. Selah.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Colored American (Washington, D. C.), “Little Colored Americans,” October 26, 1901. (top) “A first… the historic White House dinner shared by Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington.” Image courtesy of the David J. & Janice L. Frent Collection / Corbis, The New York Times, Week in Review, White Houses Past, “The Underside of the Welcome Mat,” by Gardinier Harris, November 8, 2008
Private Dalzell Speaks
“Apropos of President Roosevelt inviting a colored brother and man to dinner, I recall a remark of Frederick Douglass to me when we were stumping together in Indiana for Garfield in 1880. At Vincennes, at dinner, one day, he turned to me in that quizzical way he could assume, and said: ‘Dalzell, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, going about the country this way with a [n-word]?’
‘Well, no,’ I answered, my old abolitionist blood taking fire at the thought, ‘not a bit. I should be ashamed to travel around with some [n-words] and with many whites, too, I am sure, as you would be, but not with a [n-word] like Frederick Douglass, the only. I’m rather proud of it,’ and I was.
And so say I still, in this year of grace 1901, I am proud of a President who can recognize such a man as Booker Washington as the equal of the best of any color or creed. I suppose that was the feeling of the President when he asked a representative of 11,000,000 American citizens to dinner and he is right about it.
The only people who will object, are those who don’t like a race that always fought for and never against the flag and always did and will vote the Republican ticket. Selah! -Private Dalzell”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Colored American (Washington, D. C.), October 26, 1901
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
“In the year 1886, Henry Grady, an editor of the Atlanta Constitution, spoke at a dinner in New York. In the audience were J. P. Morgan, H. M. Flagler (an associate of Rockefeller), Russell Sage, and Charles Tiffany. His talk was called ‘The New South’ and his theme was: Let bygones be bygones; let us have a new era of peace and prosperity; the Negro was a prosperous laboring class; he had the fullest protection of the laws and the friendship of the southern people. Grady joked about the northerners who sold slaves to the South and said the South could now handle its own race problem. He received a rising ovation, and the band played ‘Dixie.’
That same month, an article in the New York Daily Tribune: ‘The leading coal and iron men of the South, who have been in this city during the last ten days, will go home to spend the Christmas holidays, thoroughly satisfied with the business of the year, and more than hopeful for the future. And they have good reason to be. The time for which they have been waiting for nearly twenty years, when Northern capitalists would be convinced not only of the safety but of the immense profits to be gained from the investment of their money in developing the fabulously rich coal and iron resources of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia, has come at last.’
The North, it must be recalled, did not have to undergo a revolution in its thinking to accept the subordination of the Negro. When the Civil War ended, nineteen of the twenty-four northern states did not allow blacks to vote. By 1900, all the southern states, in new constitutions and new statutes, had written into law the disfranchisement and segregation of Negroes, and a New York Times editorial said: ‘Northern men … no longer denounce the suppression of the Negro vote… The necessity of it under the supreme law of self preservation is candidly recognized.’
While not written into law in the North, the counterpart in racist thought and practice was there. An item in the Boston Transcript, September 25, 1895: ‘A colored man who gives his name as Henry W. Turner was arrested last night on suspicion of being a highway robber. He was taken this morning to Black’s studio, where he had his picture taken for the Rogue’s Gallery. That angered him, and he made himself as disagreeable as he possibly could. Several times along the way to the photographer’s he resisted the police with all his might, and had to he clubbed.’
In the postwar literature, images of the Negro came mostly from southern white writers like Thomas Nelson Page, who in his novel Red Rock referred to a Negro character as ‘a hyena in a cage,’ ‘a reptile,’ ‘a species of worm,’ ‘a wild beast.’ And, interspersed with paternalistic urgings of friendship for the Negro, Joel Chandler Harris, in his Uncle Remus stories, would have Uncle Remus say: ‘Put a speltin-book in a [n-word]’s ban’s, en right den en dar’ you loozes a plowhand. I kin take a bar’l stave an fling mo’ sense inter a [n-word] in one minnit dan all de schoolhouses betwixt dis en de state er Midgigin.’
In this atmosphere it was no wonder that those Negro leaders most accepted in white society, like the educator Booker T. Washington, a one-time White House guest of Theodore Roosevelt, urged Negro political passivity. Invited by the white organizers of the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895 to speak, Washington urged the southern Negro to ‘cast down your bucket where you are’ — that is, to stay in the South, to be farmers, mechanics, domestics, perhaps even to attain to the professions. He urged white employers to hire Negroes rather than immigrants of ‘strange tongue and habits.’ Negroes, ‘without strikes and labor wars,’ were the ‘most patient, faithful, law-abiding and unresentful people that the world has seen.’ He said: ‘The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly.’
Perhaps Washington saw this as a necessary tactic of survival in a time of hangings and burnings of Negroes throughout the South. It was a low point for black people in America. Thomas Fortune, a young black editor of the New York Globe, testified before a Senate committee in 1883 about the situation of the Negro in the United States. He spoke of ‘widespread poverty,’ of government betrayal, of desperate Negro attempts to educate themselves.
The average wage of Negro farm laborers in the South was about fifty cents a day, Fortune said. He was usually paid in ‘orders,’ not money, which he could use only at a store controlled by the planter, ‘a system of fraud.’ The Negro farmer, to get the wherewithal to plant his crop, had to promise it to the store, and when everything was added up at the end of the year he was in debt, so his crop was constantly owed to someone, and he was tied to the land, with the records kept by the planter and storekeeper so that the Negroes ‘are swindled and kept forever in debt.’ As for supposed laziness, ‘I am surprised that a larger number of them do not go to fishing, hunting, and loafing.’
Fortune spoke of ‘the penitentiary system of the South, with its infamous chain-gang… the object being to terrorize the blacks and furnish victims for contractors, who purchase the labor of these wretches from the State for a song… The white man who shoots a negro always goes free, while the negro who steals a hog is sent to the chain-gang for ten years.’
Many Negroes fled. About six thousand black people left Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and migrated to Kansas to escape violence and poverty. Frederick Douglass and some other leaders thought this was a wrong tactic, but migrants rejected such advice. ‘We have found no leader to trust but God overhead of us,’ one said. Henry Adams, another black migrant, illiterate, a veteran of the Union army, told a Senate committee in 1880 why he left Shreveport, Louisiana: ‘We seed that the whole South — every state in the South — had got into the hands of the very men that held us slaves.’
Even in the worst periods, southern Negroes continued to meet, to organize in self-defense. Herbert Aptheker reprints thirteen documents of meetings, petitions, and appeals of Negroes in the 1880s – in Baltimore, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas – showing the spirit of defiance and resistance of blacks all over the South. This, in the face of over a hundred lynchings a year by this time.
Despite the apparent hopelessness of this situation, there were black leaders who thought Booker T. Washington wrong in advocating caution and moderation. John Hope, a young black man in Georgia, who heard Washington’s Cotton Exposition speech, told students at a Negro college in Nashville, Tennessee:
‘If we are not striving for equality, in heaven’s name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our colored men to tell white people or colored people that we are not struggling for equality… Yes, my friends, I want equality. Nothing less… Now catch your breath, for I am going to use an adjective: I am going to say we demand social equality… I am no wild beast, nor am I an unclean thing. Rise, Brothers! Come let us possess this land. … Be discontented. Be dissatisfied. … Be as restless as the tempestuous billows on the boundless sea. Let your discontent break mountain-high against the wall of prejudice, and swamp it to the very foundation.’
Another black man, who came to teach at Atlanta University, W. E. B. Du Bois, saw the late nineteenth-century betrayal of the Negro as part of a larger happening in the United States, something happening not only to poor blacks but to poor whites. In his book Black Reconstruction, written in 1935, he said: ‘God wept; but that mattered little to an unbelieving age; what mattered most was that the world wept and still is weeping and blind with tears and blood. For there began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “A People’s History of the United States, 1492 – Present,” by Howard Zinn, 1980
Theodore Rex: The Most Damnable Outrage, by Edmund Morris
“ON 16 OCTOBER 1901, the President heard that Booker T. Washington was back in town, and invited him to dinner that night. Roosevelt had a momentary qualm about being the first President ever to entertain a black man in the White House. His hesitancy made him ashamed of himself, and all the more determined to break more than a century of precedent. He received Washington at 7:30 P.M. and introduced him to Edith. The only other non-family guest was Philip B. Stewart, a friend from Colorado.
Dinner proceeded behind closed doors, under the disapproving gaze of a Negro butler. Southern politics was the main topic of conversation. Washington’s aloofness precluded friendly chat, as did Edith Roosevelt’s sweet uninterest in anyone — black or white — who was not, as she put it, ‘de nôtre monde.‘
The President felt entirely at ease. It seemed ‘so natural and so proper’ to have Washington wield his silver. Here, dark and dignified among the paler company, was living proof of what he had always preached: that Negroes could rise to the social heights, at least on an individual basis. Collective equality was clearly out of the question, given their ‘natural limitations’ in the evolutionary scheme of things. But a black man who advanced faster than his fellows should be rewarded with every privilege that democracy could bestow. Booker T. Washington qualified honoris causa in the ‘aristocracy of worth.’
For those blacks who did not, Roosevelt had little political sympathy. The Georgian blood of his unreconstructed mother persuaded him that the Fifteenth Amendment had been ‘a mistake,’ and that, in nine cases out of ten, disfranchisement was justified. Blacks were better suited for service than suffrage; on the whole, they were ‘altogether inferior to the whites.’
Yet Roosevelt believed (as most Americans did not) that this inferiority was temporary. The arguments of Charles Darwin, Jean Lamarck, and Gustave Le Bon convinced him that Washington’s race was merely adolescent, as his own had been in the seventeenth century. Negro advancement must ‘necessarily be painful’ — witness the scars on Washington’s face, his air of swarthy suffering — but equality would come, as black Americans, generation by generation, acquired the civilized characteristics of whites. It was crucial that these voteless millions should begin to feel working for them ‘those often unseen forces in the national life which are greater than all legislation.’
Just how ‘unseen’ should Washington be in his new role as presidential adviser? Even now the secretive Tuskegean was preparing to slip out of town on a midnight train. Could Roosevelt rely on him to spread the word to Negroes that the federal government was on their side?
Sometime during the last moments of the day, after Washington had left and before Roosevelt went to bed, an Associated Press reporter stopped by the White House to ask, routinely, about the day’s guest list. By 2:00 A.M. a one-sentence dispatch was humming round the country: ‘Booker T. Washington, of Tuskegee, Alabama, dined with the President last evening.’
Neither Roosevelt nor Washington could complain about Negro reactions to this release when it appeared in the morning newspapers. Untimely congratulations warmed them, like sunbeams before a storm. ‘Greatest step for the race in a generation,’ a black man telegraphed from Nashville. ‘The hour is at hand,’ another rejoiced, ‘to make the beginning of a new order.’ A third, who remembered young Theodore Roosevelt, skinny and shaky, seconding the nomination of a Negro to chair the 1884 Republican convention, told him, ‘Your act in honoring [Washington] was a masterly stroke of statesmanship — worthy of the best minds this country has produced.’ And at a humbler level of black opinion, federal messenger boys discussed the dinner in excited whispers.
Whites, too, reacted favorably, at least those of liberal instinct. But during the afternoon, distant rumblings warned that a political hurricane was on its way up from the South. An early thunderclap was sounded by the Memphis Scimitar:
‘The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a [n-word] 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 [n-word] 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.’
The word [n-word] had not been seen in print for years. Its sudden reappearance had the force of an obscenity. Within hours, newspapers from the Piedmont to the Yazoo were raining it and other racial epithets on the President’s head.
‘ROOSEVELT DINES A DARKEY
A RANK NEGROPHILIST
OUR COON-FLAVORED PRESIDENT
ROOSEVELT PROPOSES TO CODDLE THE SONS OF HAM’
Some of the more sensational sheets expressed sexual disgust at the idea of Edith Roosevelt and Washington touching thighs, so to speak, under the table. The President was accused of promoting a ‘mingling and mongrelization’ of the Anglo-Saxon race. Booker T. Washington was sarcastically advised to send his daughter to the White House for Christmas: ‘Maybe Roosevelt’s son will fall in love with her and marry her.’
The storm squalled louder when reporters discovered that Roosevelt had entertained blacks before, in the gubernatorial mansion at Albany and at Sagamore Hill. Hate mail and death threats swamped the White House and the Tuskegee Institute. In Richmond, Virginia, a transparency of the President’s face was hissed off the Bijou screen. In Charleston, South Carolina, Senator Benjamin R. Tillman endorsed remedial genocide: ‘The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that [n-word] will necessitate our killing a thousand [n-words] in the South before they will learn their place again.’
Roosevelt was dumbfounded by the violence his invitation had provoked. At first he blamed Bourbon extremists. Yet even the most temperate Southern opinion held him in reproof. ‘At one stroke, and by one act,’ the Richmond News declared, ‘he has destroyed the kindly, warm regard and personal affection for him which were growing up fast in the South. Hereafter … it will be impossible to feel, as we were beginning to feel, that he is one of us.’
By tacit agreement, Roosevelt and Washington refused to discuss their dinner with reporters. The President sent private word to Tuskegee that he ‘did not care … what anybody thought or said about it.’ Both men were buoyed, however, by the continuing support of Northern newspapers. The Springfield Republican remarked that while Roosevelt’s gesture ‘may have been an indiscretion,’ it was ‘splendid in its recognition of the essential character of the presidential office.’
On 21 October, another lightning report flashed through the South. The President and Booker T. Washington were to dine together again, at Yale University’s bicentennial. What was more, Miss Alice Roosevelt would probably join them. Yale issued a denial — Dr. Washington was merely scheduled to march behind Roosevelt in the academic procession — but too late to still the uproar in Dixie. ‘The whole South,’ a nervous white minister wrote, ‘has not been so deeply moved in twenty years.’
Roosevelt looked calm and purposeful as he traveled through Connecticut on 23 October. The Secret Service, however, was noticeably apprehensive when he reached the Yale campus. In view of what had happened the last time a President had accepted public handshakes, he was forbidden to work the crowd.
Shocked by this restriction, Roosevelt seemed to realize his personal and political danger for the first time. He averted his eyes from Washington during their march to Hyperion Theater. A revised security plan seated them far apart, with the Negro in the audience and Roosevelt himself on the stage. No reference to their dinner was made during the ensuing speeches. But cheers filled the hall when Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer invoked the Father of the Nation and remarked, ‘Thank God, there have always been in this country college men able to recognize a true Washington, though his first name be not George.’
Degrees were awarded to a distinguished list of honorees, including John Hay, Elihu Root, Woodrow Wilson, and the white-suited Mark Twain. ‘One name yet remains—’ President Arthur Hadley intoned, and was unable to continue, so loud was the roar for Theodore Roosevelt.
Notwithstanding this expression of support, Roosevelt declined to see Washington later in the day. At a public reception that evening, he sat aloof, kneading his silk hat. He seized on Twain and asked whether it had been ‘right’ to invite a Negro to the White House. The novelist, speaking carefully, said that a President was perhaps not as free as an ordinary citizen to entertain whomever he liked.
Twain’s private opinion was that Roosevelt should ‘refrain from offending the nation merely to advertise himself and make a noise.’
A large crowd awaited the arrival of the presidential train in Washington the next morning. Few eyes followed Roosevelt as he stepped down to the platform; attention was riveted on Alice, pausing prettily behind him. The rumor, false or not, that she had been willing to eat with a Negro was scandalous, and the slenderness of her body, in its wine-colored traveling dress, sent agreeable signals of sex. Newsmen ogled her with pleased anticipation as she followed her father out of the station, a bunch of violets nodding in her belt. Here, manifestly, was copy for many seasons.
Roosevelt’s querulousness about his dinner invitation did not abate in the days ahead. While maintaining a public silence, he admitted to friends that he was puzzled and depressed. He had only wanted to show ‘some little respect’ to an esteemed fellow American. White Southerners could abuse him if they chose. ‘I regard their attacks with the most contemptuous indifference, but I am very melancholy that such a feeling should exist in such bitterly aggravated form.’ As for Booker T. Washington, ‘I shall have him to dine just as often as I please.’
Some of these remarks may have reached Washington’s ears, for a polite letter came from Tuskegee:
‘My dear Mr. President: I have refrained writing you regarding the now famous dinner which both of [us] ate so innocently until I could get to the South and study the situation at first hand. Since coming here and getting into real contact with the white people I am convinced of three things: In the first place, I believe that a great deal is being made of the incident because of the elections which are now pending in several of the Southern states; and in the second place, I do not believe the matter is felt as seriously as the newspapers try to make it appear; and in the third place I am more than ever convinced that the wise course is to pursue exactly the policy which you mapped out in the beginning; not many moons will pass before you will find the South in the same attitude toward you that it was a few years ago.’
That attitude, however, had always been skeptical. Sensing Roosevelt’s need for reassurance, Washington wrote again to say that the controversy was ‘providential,’ even therapeutic. ‘I cannot help but feel … that good is going to come out of it.’
Some good, certainly, accrued to himself. His reception by the President had transformed him into a political force of the first magnitude. Booker T. Washington now commanded the fear, as well as the love, of black Americans. Eventually the former emotion might qualify the latter, but for the time being he was, ‘King of a captive people.’
Roosevelt’s gains were more negative. He had learned the evanescence of presidential popularity, the complexity of race prejudice, and ‘the infinite capacity of the newspaper press to manufacture sensations.’ He had to accept that he had no real constituency in the South, and stood little chance of assembling one, so united were Democrats against him. Perhaps his dream of bipartisan reform had always been quixotic. The most he could hope was that Southern blacks would reward his goodwill at the next national convention.
The summer of 1904, however, seemed far away in the fall of 1901. Roosevelt could only lament his sudden misfortune, and the revival of old doubts about his maturity. A forty-third candle on his birthday cake on 27 October did not console him, nor the gift of a possum from some black admirers. He dutifully announced that he would wait until ‘the first frosty day’ before eating his critter, ‘well browned, and with sweet potatoes on the side.’
But his private melancholy persisted through the first week of November: ‘I have not been able to think out any solution of the terrible problem offered by the presence of the Negro on this continent, but of one thing I am sure, and that is that in as much as he is here and can neither be killed nor driven away, the only wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man strictly on his merits as a man… Of course I know that we see through a glass dimly, and, after all, it may be that I am wrong; but if I am, then all my thoughts and beliefs are wrong, and my whole way of looking at life is wrong. At any rate, while I am in public life, however short a time it may be, I am in honor bound to act up to my beliefs and convictions.’
As the famous dinner receded into memory and mythology, Roosevelt grew more conciliatory toward his critics, admitting that he might, just possibly, have made a mistake. But only in the political sense: morally speaking, ‘my action was absolutely proper.’
He kept his vow to consult Booker T. Washington on matters of race and patronage, but never again asked him to dinner. And when Washington next visited the White House, George Cortelyou was careful to schedule the appointment at ten o’clock on a regular business morning.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “Theodore Rex, Chapter 2, The Most Damnable Outrage,” by Edmund Morris, November 24, 2010
The social significance of Booker T. Washington, by W. E. B. Du Bois
“The late Booker T. Washington may be considered in four aspects. First there can be no doubt that his chief significance lies in the fact that he cannot be considered simply as an individual but that he is so inextricably woven into the national and even world movements of his day that his death becomes historic. Again, most Colored men in America are simply ‘Colored.’ They are submerged in a great undifferentiated group; they are not considered as individuals but are lumped together as a ‘race.’ Mr. Washington was more than ‘Colored.’ He was an American, and the comments upon his career tend continually to emphasize the fact that such a struggle upward against terrific odds, such indomitable persistence and versatility of expedient was peculiarly American. After Frederick Douglass, Mr. Washington was the next great exemplification and revelation of problems of race and labor in America, so significant as to go to the very core of our democracy; and finally, there is to consider Mr. Washington’s own personality: the silent, watchful, cautious man, rugged, nervous, popular but unsocial, slow but tireless.”
-Excerpt courtesy of UMass Amherst, Credo, W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, Series 3. Articles, “The social signficance of Booker T. Washington,” by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, ca. 1920
A Guest of Honor, by Scott Joplin
“There is no question as to Joplin’s greatness, his talent, his importance in the history of ragtime and American music. Yet, for all his prominence and recognition, many of the facts regarding his life still elude us. We are not quite sure, for example, where or when he was born… The first documented sign of Joplin’s musical career is in the summer of 1891 when, as reported in newspapers, he was back in Texarkana working with a minstrel troupe. In 1893, he was in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair, leading a band and playing cornet, probably somewhere outside the fair grounds…
Early in 1903 he filed a copyright application for an opera, A Guest of Honor. A few months later, he formed an opera company with personnel of 30, rehearsed the work at the Crawford Theatre in St. Louis, and embarked on a tour scheduled to take him to towns in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. Early in the tour, someone associated with the company stole the box office receipts, seriously damaging the company’s financial position. It was probably in Pittsburgh, Kansas, a couple of weeks later, that the tour ended, with Joplin unable to meet his payroll. Furthermore, unable to pay for the company’s board at a theatrical boarding house, all of his possessions, including the music from the opera, were confiscated. Copies of the score were never filed with the Library of Congress and the music has never been recovered.
Comments in newspapers reveal what the opera was about: black leader Booker T. Washington’s dinner at President Roosevelt’s White House in 1901. This was an event that polarized the nation, with African-Americans, naturally, taking pride in the event. It was for this reason that Joplin paid tribute to Roosevelt with his piano rag A Strenuous Life, and then tried to memorialize the event with his opera.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Internet Archive, ScottJoplin.org, The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation, “A Biography of Scott Joplin (c. 1867 – 1917),” by Edward A. Berlin, 1998
It’s Been A Minute, by Sam Sanders
[STEPHEN] THOMPSON: Not necessarily the biggest news of the week, but my three words are ‘Jesus Is King.’
[SAM] SANDERS: OK.
THOMPSON: No, I have not gathered you here to tell you the good news.
SANDERS: I would be fine with that.
THOMPSON: I think that would actually be a fantastic conversation…
[AUDIE] CORNISH: Oh, boy.
THOMPSON: …But ‘Jesus Is King,’ of course, is the title of the new album by Kanye West.
CORNISH: I hadn’t heard.
THOMPSON: I know.
CORNISH: There was almost no promotion of this work.
THOMPSON: Yeah, no discussions at all.
THOMPSON: And it is an album fully about Kanye West’s conversion to evangelical Christianity, and it is a very gospel-infused hip-hop album. And there’s been a lot of curiosity about this. Kanye has been in the news constantly through some of his political statements, through various, you know, revelations about his life. Kanye’s very good at staying in the news. And this album, you know, has finally come out. And it is – and as a music reviewer, I am – I love a deeply felt breakthrough. I love strong emotions. I love – I will take passionate misses over rote repetition of hits, right?
THOMPSON: And as a human being, I love it when self-centered people locate a purpose that’s bigger than themselves.
SANDERS: I feel a but coming on.
THOMPSON: …I found this album extremely frustrating because here is this massive spiritual shift that has taken place in his life, and listening to it, it’s like when you used to take a math test in school, and your brain knew the answer, but your math teacher docked you points for not showing your work. I feel like we have never really gotten shown the work of this spiritual transformation. And so listening…
CORNISH: Is that because you didn’t have the money, class, or power to get into a Sunday Service? I’m just saying.
SANDERS: This is his concert series that he was doing.
CORNISH: Yeah. If you were up in the Calabasas mix, you would have seen his transformation.
THOMPSON: Well, talk to me about the Sunday services because…
CORNISH: Look. I’m not going to. Here’s why. As a latent Gen Xer, I think Kanye is my new Madonna. I think Madonna is someone who people spend a lot of time comparing to other young women. No. She is a person who was always transforming, from album to album, always creating. They weren’t always hits. They weren’t always misses. And the patina of religiosity and spirituality and the conversation and dialogue with that community was always very present in her work. And like Kanye, you never quite were sure where her spiritual connection actually was in all of that marketing.
CORNISH: And it is the same with this. He is selling a dirty sock on the merch page.
SANDERS: Yes. This is the thing that’s – that I find frustrating, as someone who has literally loved Kanye since day one and will probably always love him. There’s a patina of prosperity gospel on top.
CORNISH: Not a patina. It is.
THOMPSON: And that comes through on….
CORNISH: I mean, his car karaoke with James Corden is on his jet.
SANDERS: And so, like, he has these lyrics – so, like, my favorite song on the album is this one called ‘Water,’ and it’s this beautiful, thoughtful song. But then you listen to Kanye rapping, and you’re like, I don’t like this.
SANDERS: Quote – in the song, he says, ‘Jesus, please reveal. Jesus, give us strength. Jesus, make us well. Jesus, help us live. Jesus, give us wealth.’
THOMPSON: Wealth, yep.
CORNISH: This is my devil’s advocacy, ironically, for Kanye West as a person who has been ride or die for him for a very long time. There has always been a strain of black political thought that is the Booker T. Washington kind of like – we got to do it for ourselves. We have to create wealth for ourselves. And that is what I see he is reaching for but doesn’t actually have the academic knowledge to make real and manifest in his work.
CORNISH: If people want to listen to an album that is infused with gospel in a way that feels both organic and joyful, you have to go back to Chance the Rapper. That’s what – that’s why that album was remarkable.
CORNISH: It was digestible, A, to a white public that was like, I don’t know about the rapping.
CORNISH: And then they really liked that because it was very easy to understand.
CORNISH: But it also is full of joy and love by someone who does feel – who does have a spirituality.
SANDERS: Well, and it’s so sad because there would be no Chance the Rapper without Kanye.
SANDERS: So much of the DNA of what Chance is doing…
CORNISH: Exactly. Exactly.
SANDERS: …Comes from Kanye’s earlier, happier, more soulful work.”
-Excerpt courtesy of NPR.org, It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders, “Weekly Wrap: Impeachment, Kanye West, Plus Why The Internet Loves Jeff Goldblum,” transcript, November 1, 2019
Knockout, by Titus Kaphar
“…the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” — Audre Lorde
“Having borne witness to Muhammad Ali, one of the giant figures of the twentieth century, we employ pugilistic terminology to contextualize the work in Titus Kaphar: Knockout. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976, Kaphar uses his art to encourage activism, transformation, and freedom. He challenges us to achieve self-liberation in new and self-affirming ways. Kaphar, received his BFA from San Jose State University in 2001, and MFA in 2006 from the Yale School of Art. He was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ Fellowship in 2018. This is his first exhibition at an HBCU.
That Kaphar’s art is exhibited at Tuskegee University is not an accident. Instead, the presentation of Knockout at The Legacy Museum is a ‘homecoming’ of sorts. In 1901, Yale University conferred an honorary doctorate degree on our first president, Booker T. Washington. On that day, Dr. Washington implored constituencies at Yale University to work more collaboratively with African Americans to improve the plight of everyone in America. During a June 2017 visit with students and mentors of the Alliance of HBCU Museums and Galleries at Yale University Art Gallery, Titus received a photograph of Booker T. Washington taken at Yale in 1901. The installation of Knockout is an extension of the stunning blows that Washington himself leveled against forces that opposed generations of African descendants coming ‘up from slavery.’ The continuity in this linkage between Yale University and Tuskegee University that began in 1901 continues over 118 years later.
Kaphar’s art almost defies description. He is a shaman and polymath… He conjures Maya Angelou’s inspirational phrase, ‘and still I rise’ … KNOCKOUT will be on view October 1, 2019 to March 30, 2020 at The Legacy Museum.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Tuskegee University, The Legacy Museum, “Titus Kaphar: Knockout,” brochure, Jontyle Robinson, Ph.D, Charles Austin Page, Jr., September 2019