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Zito: Kilmeade’s book on Booker T. Washington and Teddy Roosevelt is excellent

By Salena Zito - | Dec 6, 2023

Courtesy photo

Salena Zito

HOMESTEAD, Pa. — Fox News host Brian Kilmeade wants you to read “Teddy and Booker T.: How Two American Icons Blazed a Path for Racial Equality,” not because he wrote it, nor because they are men without flaws, but because of their roles in advancing civil rights for black people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

And also because of the lessons we can learn from the partnership between the two men.

Kilmeade said his journey to write about the two men together in a way seldom explored began when he read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, “Up From Slavery.”

“I knew I wanted to write a book about Washington, but no one was ever going to do a better Booker T. Washington biography than Booker T. Washington and everybody else that knew him,” he said.

“I wanted to discuss the issue of race through his experiences in a way that did not whitewash it, so I decided to do it through the eyes of these two great Americans. And that’s what led me to it,” he said.

Kilmeade’s book on the two icons is a fast-paced read that tells Washington and Roosevelt’s stories in parallel, moving back and forth between the men, their lives, their struggles, and their shortcomings, introducing them together in a way that makes their relationship accessible to the reader.

Kilmeade said that in doing research for the book, he found two things that surprised him about both men and made him look at them in a different way, beginning with how grounded and well-rounded Washington’s disposition was.

“He refuses to let hate become something he demonstrates. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he refused to hate people because he said it gives them too much power,” Kilmeade said.

“When I closed his biography, I realized this book was like reading modern-day Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’ or ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Vincent Peale or Anthony Robbins’ ‘Personal Power’ all wrapped up in one. Without anyone teaching it, he taught himself,” Kilmeade said.

“Booker T. Washington’s attitude was ‘I’m not going to be denied,'” Kilmeade continued. “‘I’m going to think positive.’ And then when you’re thinking positive, and you have a goal, those things gave him the strength to knock on the doors blindly, introduce himself as a guy who runs the school you never heard of, and ask for donations.” That’s how Washington raised money in the early years of the Tuskegee Institute from men such as industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Kilmeade said Carnegie, a child of poverty himself, was so impressed by Washington’s “self-made” image that he became a generous benefactor.

Carnegie wrote that he had “instructed Mr. Franks, my cashier, to deliver to you as Trustee of Tuskegee six hundred thousand dollars 5% U.S. Steel Co. 1st Mortgage bonds for the Endowment Fund. I give this without reservation except that I require that suitable provision be made from the gift for the wants of Booker Washington and his family during his own or his wife’s life. I wish that great good to be entirely free from (psouniary) (sic) cares that he may be free to devote himself to his great mission.”

It isn’t lost on Kilmeade, as he will be speaking at the Carnegie Library of Homestead as part of his book tour. Completed in November 1898, the Carnegie library is the third oldest in continuous operation in its original building, which includes the 1,000-seat music hall, where Kilmeade will discuss the book on Dec. 15.

Washington spoke at the same famed music hall in 1900, visited with the workers at the then-massive Homestead Steel Works, and stayed at the home of J.S. Ray, who ran the Bureau of Information at Carnegie Steel, on Murtland Street in Homestead.

“Wow. That can’t just be a coincidence, can it,” Kilmeade said, realizing he would be standing exactly where Washington did over 100 years ago.

Two years later, President Teddy Roosevelt was just down the road for one of the largest gatherings of people Pittsburgh had ever seen when he gave a speech on patriotism at Schenley Park for a Fourth of July celebration.

Kilmeade said he plans to get to the library early to tour it and see what Washington saw 123 years ago. It won’t be hard to imagine: The library has done a remarkable job maintaining the structure’s integrity.

The book serves as a polished and well-researched introduction to both men with a complicated but rewarding and successful relationship.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.


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