December 24th, 2008
08:12 AM ET

Warren could be Obama's Booker T. Washington

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/18/obama.warren/art.obama.warren.gi.jpg caption="President-elect Barack Obama has chosen pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration."]
DeWayne Wickham
USA Today

If you're looking for an explanation of President-elect Barack Obama's decision to invite conservative evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration that goes beyond the desire for a kumbaya moment, I've got one: Obama wants to make Warren his Booker T. Washington.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Washington was one of this nation's most influential black leaders. His willingness to try to find common ground with whites who viewed — and treated — blacks as an inferior race made Washington someone presidents reached out to.

Theodore Roosevelt, especially, turned to Washington for advice on "the Negro problem." Taking counsel from "the great accommodationist," as Washington was called, was an act of steam control by the Republican president at a time when the racial divide was undeniably this nation's most explosive problem.

"In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress," Washington said in an 1895 speech that established him as a black leader who was willing to temper the demands of blacks for racial equality.


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