When people think of Theodore Roosevelt, it is often his roundness that comes to mind. Cowboy, soldier, conservationist, author and adventurer; America’s youngest president has worn many hats in his lifetime, literally.
To help paint a picture of Roosevelt’s life and career, Leroy Dorsey of Texas A&M University will offer his perspective on the former president in a documentary broadcast Memorial Day at 7 p.m. on The History Channel. The series, which includes Leonardo DiCaprio as executive producer, will feature interviews with a variety of scholars providing expertise on Roosevelt.
This is the first time Dorsey has been interviewed for such a project.
“I was contacted two and a half years ago by the documentary filmmakers,” Dorsey said. “They told me they had been the documentarians who produced the Ulysses S. Grant documentary on The History Channel and they said they wanted to do one on Theodore Roosevelt. They wanted me to talk specifically about Theodore Roosevelt and race because I had written a book about it.
Dorsey’s Book “‘We’re All Americans, Pure and Simple: ‘Theodore Roosevelt and the Myth of Americanism’ ponders the titular statesman’s rhetoric as he faced a particularly turbulent time in American history. Hectic immigration, racial tensions, women’s suffrage, and extremely corrupt businesses have all contributed to the chaos.
“You had all this stuff swirling around, and he was trying to solve a lot of problems,” Dorsey said. “I watch his rhetoric to understand how he was trying to persuade people to believe that people of different races and ethnicities could become Americans if given the opportunity, and that’s why I find it fascinating. He’s the president at a time when all these ideas were new and clashing and needed answers, he was there, trying to do that.
Dorsey’s interview for the series focuses on how Roosevelt engaged with racism in the country and his complex struggle to try to ease tensions within his country.
“He was against lynching, but he would also have been trapped by the thinking of the time in his own head,” Dorsey said. “While black men supposedly made the decision to sexually assault white women, Roosevelt viewed their lynching as a form of ‘border justice’, even though he was against the practice of lynching. Yet he also acknowledged that there were many false accusations against black men for this crime, and that the lynching itself was immoral.
Dorsey said he believed this documentary would be the most comprehensive yet, and that it aired at a time in American history similar to the days of Roosevelt’s presidency.
“I think it’s important for people who might not know much about him to watch this and learn more about our backgrounds,” Dorsey said. “It’s important because you can see that the issues we’re struggling with right now in 2022 are some of the same issues they were grappling with 120 years ago. What does that mean to being American?We need to look at this so we can learn more about the successes as well as the mistakes he made so that we don’t repeat them now.