Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied The President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics
Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way
Cincinnati, OH 45202
This event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested.
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Join us for an engaging lecture with Harry Lembeck regarding his new book, Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied The President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics, which investigates the controversial action of an otherwise much-lauded president, the challenge to his decision from a senator of his own party, and the way in which Roosevelt’s uncompromising stance affected African American support of the party of Lincoln.
The Brownsville Affair was a racial incident that grew out of tensions between whites in Brownsville, Texas and black infantrymen stationed at nearby Fort Brown. The infantrymen had been subjected to racial discrimination since they arrived. A shooting incident in town on the night of August 13, 1906 left a white bartender dead and a police officer wounded. Although white commanders at Fort Brown affirmed that all black soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shooting, local whites claimed that black soldiers had been seen firing. They produced spent shells from army rifles to allegedly support their statements. Despite evidence that indicated the shells had been planted, investigators accepted the statements of the white community.
Using primary sources to reconstruct the events, attorney Harry Lembeck begins at the end when Senator Joseph Foraker is honored by the black community in Washington DC, for his efforts to reverse Roosevelt’s decision. Lembeck highlights Foraker’s courageous resistance to his own president. In addition, he examines the larger context of racism in the era of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, pointing out that Roosevelt treated discrimination against the Japanese in the West much differently. He also notes often-ignored evidence concerning the role of Roosevelt’s illegitimate cousin in the president’s decision, the possibility that Foraker and Roosevelt had discussed a compromise, and other hitherto overlooked facts about the case.
Sixty-seven years after the event, President Richard Nixon finally undid Roosevelt’s action by honorably discharging the men of the Brownsville Battalion. But, as this thoroughly researched and engrossing narrative shows, the damage done to both Roosevelt’s reputation and black support for the Republican Party lingers to this day.
Harry Lembeck, a retired attorney, is a freelance writer and recognized Theodore Roosevelt historian. He has lectured at historical organizations and acted as a historical advisor for a PBS program on peonage called Slavery by Another Name.
Thank you to John and Francie Pepper for sponsoring the Freedom Lecture Series and to our print media sponsor, Cincy Magazine.