Did Theodore Roosevelt Fail to Support Civil Rights?

President Theodore Roosevelt made small strides in U.S. race relations, but he was not considered a leader of the civil rights movement. He spoke out publicly against race-based discrimination on a number of occasions. He also appointed several African Americans to federal offices, but they were lower level positions.

Opposed to school segregation, Roosevelt ordered an end to it in New York while serving as governor of the state. He defied anti-Semites as president by appointing a Jewish man to his cabinet.

Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, a prominent African-American leader in his time, to dinner at the White House in 1901. Washington shared his views on racism and politics during the meeting. However, the public reaction to the summit was critical, which discouraged Roosevelt from sending a second invitation. In fact, shortly after the public criticized him inviting Washington to the White House, Roosevelt began speaking out less often in support of civil rights.

Even so, in 1905, Roosevelt threatened to sue the city of San Francisco for denying admission of 93 Japanese students to public schools in which primarily white students were enrolled. He worked with school officials to reach a compromise in which the school board allowed the Japanese students to attend classes with white students and asked Japan to cease issuing passports to unskilled laborers.