Taking on Theodore Roosevelt How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics

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Taking on Theodore Roosevelt

How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics
By Harry Lembeck

In August 1906 black soldiers were accused of going on a rampage through Brownsville, Texas, killing one civilian and badly wounding another. Because the shooters could never be positively identified, President Theodore Roosevelt, on his own authority as Commander-in-Chief, threw one hundred and sixty-seven soldiers out of the army. Taking On Theodore recounts the shooting, Roosevelt’s decision, and the heroic and lonely struggle on the soldiers’ behalf by Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio. The Brownsville shooting and the crosscurrents of history circling around it – the rivalry between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois over the direction of the civil rights movement, the business panics that forced Roosevelt to ally himself with industrial and financial titans he detested, the rise of Japan and Roosevelt’s concern over its assertive foreign policy backed by its military that had just won its war with Russia, the disgrace of the Jim Crow South – tell a story about America through a shooting in southern Texas.

Historian Harry Lembeck, using primary sources and evidence he uncovered to reconstruct the events, begins at the end when Senator Foraker is honored by the black community in Washington, D.C. for what he did. Foraker’s fierce resistance, forgotten today, against a strong President determined to get his own way is a study in courage and the American character. Evidence given to Roosevelt by his illegitimate first cousin, usually ignored by historians, is recounted in Taking On Theodore Roosevelt and may provide the answer why Roosevelt, one of America’s greatest President’s, acted as he did.
When, sixty-seven years after the shooting, President Richard Nixon undid Roosevelt’s action, it was too late to help all but the one soldier still living.
For more information, please visit www.takingontheodoreroosevelt.com.

ISBN 978-1616149543 / Prometheus Publishers / January 2015 / 544 pages

American History / Hardcover $27.00 / Digital $12.99


Harry Lembeck, Author of
Taking on Theodore Roosevelt

How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics

Before “recovering” from the practice of law to pursue his passion for history, Harry Lembeck did a lot of writing as a lawyer. While studying for his Master of Law (Tax) degree, he wrote an article in The International Tax Journal analyzing the treatment of corporate taxes under the tax treaty between the United States and Germany. (He was told his writing made this more interesting than its subject suggested). Where possible, he enjoyed salting his filed briefs with metaphorical literary references. Before a United States District Court he compared someone’s behavior to that of Thomas Cromwell in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. Another time, to emphasize the plodding pace of a lawsuit, he cited as precedent Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, with appropriate credit, of course, to Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.

Widely known for his knowledge of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Era, the producers of the PBS documentary “Slavery by Another Name,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, selected Mr. Lembeck as an expert resource in 2011. His contributions can be seen on the PBS website at: http://video.pbs.org/video/2178670636/ and http://video.pbs.org/video/2178678003.

For its annual meeting in 2012, the Theodore Roosevelt Association asked him to moderate the symposium on the Progressive Movement of 1912. He also moderated the symposium on TR and the Rough Riders at its 2009 annual meeting in Tampa, where he worked with, among other speakers, The New York Times bestselling biographer David Nasaw, whose books include a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, New York Historical Society Book Prize in American History, Bancroft Prize, J. Anthony Lukas Prize, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Mr. Lembeck writes for the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal, including a featured review of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edith Wharton. An active member of the TRA, he has been its vice president and on its executive committee and board of trustees.
In January 2015, Prometheus Books published Mr. Lembeck’s Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics, a popular historical narrative of the Brownsville Incident in 1906. Black soldiers of the 25th Infantry posted at Fort Brown, Texas were accused of shooting up the town, killing one civilian and seriously wounding another. As commander-in-chief, President Roosevelt, without benefit of court-martial or other trial, discharged every black solider at Fort Brown on the night of the shooting. It is considered the worst thing Roosevelt did as President. Taking on Theodore Roosevelt examines the shooting, the investigations, and the effort, in particular the heroic work of Ohio Sen. Joseph B. Foraker, made to get the men back into the army. The narrative puts the shooting and the discharges in the context of the early 20th century and shows how Brownsville helped change the civil rights movement and the course of American history. The book has received excellent reviews and endorsements.

Mr. Lembeck has served on the boards of directors of the Marietta Museum of History, Theatre in the Square (the second largest theater in Georgia) and Bulloch Hall, the historic home in which Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch, grew up and where she and his father were married. He enjoys speaking before service clubs, e.g. Rotary and Kiwanis, and other civic organizations. People who have heard his presentations say he knows his subject very well, and he is spirited, informative, and entertaining. He was a Marine officer between 1967 and 1971 and served in the continental United States, on Okinawa, and in Vietnam. He is a native New Yorker and a double alumnus of The Ohio State University (B.A. and J.D.). His wife is Dr. Emily Lembeck, Superintendent of the Marietta (Georgia) City Schools and the 2012 Georgia School Superintendent of the Year. They have two sons and (for the moment) five grandchildren.


Taking on Theodore Roosevelt

How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics
By Harry Lembeck
Taking on Theodore Roosevelt wonderfully portrays the bravery of Senator Joseph B. Foraker in standing up for African Americans after the Brownsville incident. At heart it’s an exposé of racism in the early twentieth century. Highly recommended!”
—Douglas Brinkley, professor of history, Rice University, and author of 

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
“Harry Lembeck’s experience as a Marine officer and lawyer, coupled with extensive research, gives him a unique perspective on an unfortunate chapter in Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential history and allows him to present a balanced and often-sympathetic portrait of both TR and the Brownsville soldiers. Readers will enjoy this engaging and informative book.”
—Tweed Roosevelt, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Association
“Attorney and freelance writer Lembeck (secretary, Theodore Roosevelt Association) uncovers important details about a less-savory event in a largely lauded presidency…. Assiduously researched, this book presents for practitioners and general readers alike a more complete and complicated portrait of the gifted yet sometimes impulsive and self-righteous Roosevelt. It also brings to light Foraker, a less well-known but significant political player, who proved that honest efforts to correct wrongs can come from surprising, otherwise nonreformist, sources.”—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC, Library Journal
“Rich in detail and nuance, Taking on Theodore Roosevelt is a powerful narrative that not only painstakingly describes all perspectives of the Brownsville tragedy, but also shows how the many people involved, from Sgt. Mingo Sanders to Theodore Roosevelt and his nemesis, Senator Joseph Foraker, were shaped by the larger forces around them. I expected a history of the Brownsville Incident. What I found instead was a history of the United States through the prism of Brownsville.”
—Quintard Taylor, Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Chair of American History, University of Washington, Seattle
“Foraker’s complicated, prickly personality has never been captured better than in Lembeck’s pages, but even so, he’s just one character in a wonderful gallery of great portraits painted in these pages, from relatively minor characters like a flamboyant Texas Ranger who walks into the scandal in its early days…to some of the most prominent figures of the day, including the book’s two champion grandstanders, Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington….This book is hugely readable and accomplished, the sure-handed work of a historian who loves good stories but isn’t for a moment hoodwinked by them. It’s a thumpingly good start to 2015’s roll of history volumes – and an essential addition to any inquiry into the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review

“…well-researched, offers a fresh look at an obscure aspect of one of our most enduringly popular presidents and is thoroughly engaging.”

Joe Kirby, Marietta Daily Journal

Pick of the Month, February, 2015

Alan Caruba, Bookviews

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