My dreams come from the same place. One of my family’s stories is of my great-grandparents’ admiration for a president and the fulfillment of their hopes for their descendants. In many ways, this story has guided my life’s journey.
The story begins when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Theodore Roosevelt then ascended to the nation’s highest office, and arguably his first act of courage as president occurred that same year, on Oct. 16. On that night, at the personal invitation of President Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington walked out of the Blue Room of the White House and dined with the president and first lady, marking the first time an African-American had ever done so.
Much of the still-segregated nation was in an uproar when word of the dinner was made public. The US senator from South Carolina, Benjamin Tillman, said, “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that [n-word] will necessitate our killing a thousand [n-words] in the South before they learn their place again.”
Elsewhere in South Carolina, however, sharecropper Will and homemaker Annie Johnson were so inspired by the president’s gesture of equality that they named their son (my grandfather) Theodore Roosevelt Johnson in his honor.