FAIRHOPE — An overflow crowd of Alabama readers came out on December 3 to hear Brian Kilmeade of Fox News introduce his newest book, Teddy and Booker T.: How Two American Icons Blazed a Path for Racial Equality.
It’s the story of how an Alabama educator and national leader of the Black community came to know and influence the President of the United States.
These two were most unlikely collaborators. Booker T. Washington was born a slave, raised in poverty, and lifted himself in an American rags-to-riches story. Roosevelt was from seven generations of wealth among New York state’s top-level elites.
Kilmeade told the Alabama audience what he considers the theme of his book:
“Not just what you did, but what hurdles you crossed to get there.”
After the unlikely education and early-in-life success of Booker T. Washington, he became the founding president of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. He headed it for 30 years, ending with his death in 1915.
The fascinating life of Washington included a then-controversial relationship with President Theodore Roosevelt that started in 1901 and continued through the end of TR’s presidency in 1909.
Kilmeade appeared in Fairhope on Sunday, December 3, at Page & Palette Bookstore. He held a news conference, spoke, and then had a book signing line. 1819 News was the only news organization to cover the news conference.
The relationship between Washington and TR began with the President’s surprise invitation for Washington to dine in the White House with TR and family. Come, he did.
BTW was the recognized leader of the Black community in the U.S., similar to the position of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.
Roosevelt’s invitation to Washington and the acceptance sparked harsh reactions from political leaders in the South. There was pressure on TR, a Republican, to rescind the invitation and to cease interaction with Washington. He never wavered.
Kilmeade quoted Theodore Roosevelt about Booker T. Washington:
“It is not hyperbole to say that Booker T. Washington was a great American. For twenty years before his death, he had been the most useful, as well as the most distinguished, member of his race in the world, and one of the most useful and distinguished of American citizens of any race,”
Kilmeade told 1819 News that he posted a new video on Fox Nation about the book and what it means for present-day Americans.
The interaction between Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington was not the only time an Alabama leader became influential with a President and administration.
Then-Senator Hugo Black (D-Clay County, Alabama) had been a powerful supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. The two developed a relationship, and Roosevelt appointed Black to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was arguably the most influential justice of the 20th century.
Alabama business leader Winton Blount, Sr. became influential with President Richard Nixon. Nixon appointed Blount as the final Postmaster General of the United States, and Blount led the transition of that department into the present U.S. Postal Service.
Lanett, Alabama businessman Millard Fuller became influential with President Jimmy Carter, who spent decades supporting Fuller’s “Habitat for Humanity.”
Alabama’s Jeff Sessions was the first U.S. Senator to endorse businessman Donald Trump for President before the 2016 election. Trump appointed Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.
Check back with 1819 News for a forthcoming review of the book.
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].