“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” (Scene 23 of 24) Booker T. Washington dines with Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, 1901

“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” (Scene 23 of 24) Booker T. Washington dines with Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, 1901

SEE ENTIRE SCREENPLAY  Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story: New and Improved


On 16 October 1901, shortly after moving into the White House,  Theodore Roosevelt invited his advisor, 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. This reaction affected subsequent White House practice, and no other African American was invited to dinner for almost thirty years.

(Washington enters the White House for a late afternoon luncheon)

Roosevelt: Greetings, Mr. Washington.

Washington: Greetings, Mr. President

Roosevelt: In Atlanta in ’95 , you said;  “In all things that are purely social we [blacks and whites] can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” I heartily offer my full hand to shake your full hand.

Atlanta Compromise Speech.

(They shake hands.)

Roosevelt: Notice I did not call you Professor  Washington as they did in ’95 in Atlanta. Mr. Washington, I hope, strikes the correct gravitas for a man of your stature.

Washington: Thank you so kindly. Notice I called you  Mr. President and not Colonel Roosevelt.

Roosevelt: Now let us enjoy our purely social luncheon.

(The men sit to luncheon. After a few pleasantries, the conversation begins in earnest.)

Roosevelt: I don’t know yet if I have personally said what a fine speech you gave at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago back in ’98. President McKinley (may he rest in peace) found it most admirable.

Scene 15

Washington: Even with what I said about racial prejudice. That it is a cancer.

the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudice. … Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have, especially in the Southern part of our country, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the Republic, that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack from an army without or within.


A photo from the book “Guest of Honor,” taken in 1905 when Theodore Roosevelt visited Tuskegee and stood beside Booker T. Washington.

Roosevelt: It is a cancer. A blot. It is a sin. It’s America’s original sin. I only wish I knew how to conquer it myself.  But I coming to Tuskegee soon.

Washington nods quietly.

Roosevelt: Listen, let’s just clear the air. I’ve read what you wrote in A New Negro for a New Century (1900). You didn’t like how I praised the black troopers in October ’98 at the Lennox Lyceum near Harlem, and then, according to you, I changed the story in The Rough Riders (1899).

You said I should write a correction of the Rough Rider’s  statement.  [see excerpt below] As I will explain, believe it or not, that correction may happen yet.

For now, I hope we can put whatever happened in Cuba behind us.  Mr. Washington, I think we see eye to eye on the race question. You never wrote truer words in Up From Slavery  about what you say to your own race: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

That’s a much finer sentiment than when DuBois pits black man against white by saying the story of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line. Mr. Washington, can we agree that America, unhyphenated, will be the story of the 2oth Century.

[Below is an extended excerpt from   “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” .   The excerpt is an analysis of Washington’s commentary in A New Negro for a New Century (1900) in which Washington criticizes Roosevelt for his depiction of the black troopers in The Rough Riders in contrast to his speech at the Lennox Lyceum.

The first two paragraph describe the contrast between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois as dramatized in Sutton Griggs’ Imperium in Imperio (1899) Scene 15

Introducing Booker T. Washington

GriggsSeveral critics have noted similarities between Booker T. Washington and Griggs’s characterization of Belton Piedmont. Arlene Elder says Belton, given his rise from poverty, intellectual achievements and his position as college president, is almost surely modeled after Washington.. Hannah Wallinger claims that Belton is “the fictional representative of the real-life controversy between the conciliatory Washington and the more radical Du Bois.”

Elder and Wallinger reiterate the argument that Washington stood for pacifism, compromise and cooperation while Du Bois’s more militant views on black resistance contemplated various forms of black nationalism and separatism. At the same time, while Belton’s foil, Bernard Belgrave, speaks against conciliation, it does not seem that Belgrave is modeled after Du Bois. In “‘The Sweetness of his Strength’: Du Bois, Teddy Roosevelt and the Back Soldier,” Mark Braley has shown that despite his militant reputation, Du Bois was “generally opposed to war, and while he never failed to support the black soldier, his soldier was a reluctant one.” As Braley wrote, “over against Roosevelt’s ‘big stick,’ Du Bois poses the peaceful assertiveness of Alexander Crummell”— an approach generally shared by Washington.

In 1900, Washington, along with Reverend N.B. Woods and Mrs. Fannie Barrier Williams, published A New Negro for a New Century. Washington devoted his section to an extensive tribute to the black trooper in Cuba, framed as a response to Roosevelt’s accounts of the Cuban Campaign.

First, Washington cites an October 1898 address given by Roosevelt at the New York Lennox Lyceum following Roosevelt’s return from Cuba. At the Lyceum, Roosevelt praised the heroics of the black trooper:

As I [Roosevelt] heard one of The Rough Riders say after the charge at San Juan: ‘Well, the Ninth and Tenth men are all right. They can drink out of our canteens.’ They and we went up absolutely intermingled, so that no one could tell whether it was the Riders or the men of the Ninth who came forward with the greater courage to offer lives in the service of their country . . .

When you have been in fire with a man and fought side by side with him, and eaten with him when you had anything to eat, and hungered with him when you hadn’t, you feel a sort of comradeship that you don’t feel for any man that you have been associated with in other ways, and I don’t think any of the Rough Riders will ever forget the tie that binds us to the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry.

troop c ninth

Troop C. Ninth U.S. Cavalry, Captain Taylor, Leading the Charge at San Juan. — By Fletcher C. Ransom

Given the prevailing codes that enforced racial segregation and white supremacy, Roosevelt’s recognition of the courageous black troopers and the vivid tableaux of intermingled black and white soldiers are indeed remarkable.

Here, Roosevelt’s rhetoric contains highly charged images of bodily affinity and identification: shared canteens, physical merging, common hungering and psychic bonding—images that Washington admires.

Washington’s pleasure with Roosevelt’s story of the Cuban War is, however, short-lived. Washington says, “In view of this pronouncement [Roosevelt’s at the Lyceum] there was a very great deal of surprise when, in his story The Rough Riders, Colonel Roosevelt published the following.”  Now, Washington inserts one of Roosevelt’s passages in which Roosevelt claims that without white officers the black soldiers were inert or hesitant:

None of the white regulars or Rough Riders showed the slightest sign of weakening; but under the strain the colored infantrymen (who had none of their officers) began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear, either helping wounded men, or saying they wished to find their own regiments. This I could not now allow, as it was depleting my line, so I jumped up, and walking a few yards to the rear, drew my revolver, halted the retreating soldiers, and called out to them that I appreciated the gallantry with which they had fought and would be sorry to hurt them, but that I should shoot the first man who, out of any pretense whatever, went to the rear . . .

I ended my statement to the colored soldiers by saying: “Now, I shall be sorry to hurt you, and you don’t know whether or not I keep my word, but my men can tell you that I always do;” whereupon my cow-punchers, hunters, and miners solemnly nodded their heads and commented in chorus, exactly as if in a comic opera, “He always does; he always does.”

This ended the trouble.

To which Washington responds:

This makes very nice reading, but it is not history, in which it is always hazardous to sacrifice truth “to make the period round.” It is therefore fortunate that one of the Afro-Americans who was with Colonel Roosevelt at the time and knows all about the scandalous incident he relates should write a correction of the Rough Rider’s statements.

The “scandalous incident” is not just that Roosevelt says that the black soldiers drifted to the rear or, at another point, that, “they [the black troopers] were, of course, peculiarly dependent on their white officers.” It is as much what Roosevelt has written in The Rough Riders but what has been discarded from the October speech. In The Rough Riders, bodily bonds have disappeared. Shared canteens have been replaced with Roosevelt’s menacing pistol; comradeship is displaced as the power to hurt; the Lennox Lyceum has given way to a comic opera.

In the Lyceum Speech, Roosevelt seemed to have granted the black troopers a kind of equivalent martial manhood via idealized images of black cavalrymen and white Rough Riders as one. In The Rough Riders  that grant has been rescinded. Washington follows with the strongly worded rebuttal by the black trooper Presley Holliday first printed in , one similar to that voiced by Sergeant-Major Pullen before the Negro Business League:

I could give many other incidents of our men’s devotion to duty, of their determination to stay until the death, but what’s the use? Colonel Roosevelt said they shirked, and the reading public will take the Colonel at his word and go on thinking they shirked. His statement was uncalled for and uncharitable and. . . altogether ungrateful, and has done us an immeasurable lot of harm. I will say that when our soldiers who can and will write history, they [the white reading public] will see in print held up for public gaze, much to their chagrin, tales of those Cuban battles that have never been told outside the tent and the barrack room, tales that it will not be agreeable for some of them to hear.

Washington concludes, “So much for Roosevelt’s statements.”

In Holliday’s speech are the echoes of Washington’s sense of betrayal resulting from words uncalled for, uncharitable and ungrateful. More so, when Holliday tells the black soldier to make public untold and disagreeable tales, he seems to be repudiating not just Roosevelt’s words but also Roosevelt’s white authority. In a way, Holliday’s call for a black history anticipates Bernard’s secessionist speech before the Imperium.

In contrast, while Washington uses Holliday’s narrative to bolster his critique of Roosevelt’s reversal, Washington’s rhetoric does not speak out against Roosevelt’s authority to tell the story of the Cuban Campaign. Fundamentally, Washington’s critique itself relies upon his initial endorsement and praise for Roosevelt’s Lyceum address. If Roosevelt had not reversed himself, Holliday’s call for a new history would be both muted and mute. Finally, when Washington preserves the Lyceum speech, he preserves images of black soldiers on San Juan Hill whose manhood is inextricably bound and defined by the relationship to their white counterparts and Roosevelt’s authority.]


wash 2

Washington: I know why you changed the story. I can accept it.  We have made some progress.  You will be surely welcomed at Tuskegee. But I wish you would use the bully pulpit to condemn lynchings. They are the cancer rising to the surface. Still, I am here sitting beside you and appreciate your invitation deeply.

Roosevelt: (nodding) And one day, believe it or not, a worthy black man will be sitting where I am. It will take over a century I am guessing. But it will happen. In a different time period, it could have been you. I do hope it’s a Republican!

That’s also what I wanted talk with you about.

(Roosevelt takes out  the film and a letter from the closet. He explains Crane’s wishes to Washington. The letter gives some background and tells the future president to dispose of the film as he or she sees fit.) Scene 20

Washington: But why are giving this to me?

Roosevelt: Frankly, I don’t trust my heirs to not forget about it or lose it. Your heirs–your people–will have more reason to see that it is kept safetly. (laughing) If I gave it to DuBois, he’d say he made it himself and show the damned thing at the Lennox Lyceum next week.

Washington: How do you know I won’t show it at the Lennox Lyceum?

Roosevelt: I don’t. I think you know there’s a good chance the outcry against that film might spread faster than cancer. It would be a contagion. If there are too many lynchings now, just wait. It’s a risk I don’t think you want to take.

Washington: You may be right. You may be wrong. But, yes, it would be a risk. Why didn’t Crane reshoot the film or even release it publically as it is?Washington-Eastman-360x580

Roosevelt: I don’t know. I am not sure if he knows. You could ask him yourself. But he’s dead.

Washingtom: Hmm, Mr. President, I have what might be an even better idea. This film is not in the greatest condition. And time — a century? — will take a perhaps fatal toll.  I very much doubt my heirs will know how to preserve it.

Very soon I am visiting George Eastman in Rochester. You know, he’s given to Tuskegee and I want to thank him.  Coincidentally, I may even dine with him also.  I will give him the film to hold. His men know all about preservation and proper storage.

Roosevelt: Bully idea! I know George. He’ll keep the secret to his grave and make sure those after him do also.

Washington: Speaking of secrets, this visit is not yet known. Nor may ever be. So another secret for you to keep.

Roosevelt: On my word. Give Mr. Kodak my greetings, Mr. Washington.

The two men shake hands and Washington leave.)

The complete screenplay

also On Spanish-American War Monuments and Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day

See the “News” at Northeast: Booker T. Washington’s visit with George Eastman

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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