"Come without fail. You will receive kindly and friendly welcome. Address to be given in courthouse to both races." This telegram of February 4, 1903, reinvited Booker T. Washington, America’s best known black man, to speak on the occasion of the joint meeting of the General Education Board and county superintendents of education at Gainesville, Florida. It was front page news throughout the United States. Washington's acceptance of an earlier invitation from State Superintendent of Education William N. Sheats, one of the South's most renowned educators, had caused intense controversy among Floridians over the idea of a black man, however prominent, addressing white people. Realizing the threat to his movement if not to his person, Washington had offered to withdraw, but the message from Sheats, Gainesville's Mayor W. R. Thomas, and Alachua County Superintendent of Education W. M. Holloway helped convince him to lecture on February 5, 1903, to a racially mixed crowd of some 2,000. Washington later insisted he had "never received a more delightful welcome," and he described his visit as a major triumph over southern race prejudice.
White, Arthur O.
"Booker T. Washington's Florida Incident, 1903-1904,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 51:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol51/iss3/3