Oct. 16, 1901

President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute who was perhaps the best known African American of his day, to a meeting in the White House. When the meeting went long, the President asked Washington to stay for dinner, the first Black American to do so. The President’s act drew harsh criticism from many white Americans. 

“The outrage was just unbelievable,” said Deborah Davis, author of “Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation”. 

“‘Dining,’ and I put it in quotation marks, was really a code word for social equality.”

That outrage continued, she said. “There was hell to pay, first weeks, then months, then years, then decades. This story did not go away. And, you know, an assassin was hired to go to Tuskegee to kill Booker T. Washington. He was pursued wherever he went. Theodore Roosevelt was criticized in ways that presidents were not criticized. There were vulgar cartoons of Mrs. Roosevelt that had never been done before. This was all new territory.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.