Representative Joseph Crockett Shaffer(R-9th District, VA) had been a member of the 71st Congress for only 3 months when the De Priest incident made national news. It was June 1929, and First Lady Louann Hoover had refused to invite black Congressman Oscar De Priest’s wife, Jessie Williams De Priest, to the White House to have tea with the spouses of other Republican Congressmen. After De Priest (R-Chicago) publicized the snub, Mrs. Hoover invited Mrs. De Priest to the White House in a highly symbolic event that marked the first time an African American woman had ever been entertained by a First Lady in the official resident of the President.
Racist editorials in both Northern and Southern newspapers called the invitation a social scandal and vilified Mrs. Hoover and the De Priests, but a threatened boycott by Southern legislators’ wives collapsed. Some southern newspaper editors accused Mrs. Hoover of ‘defiling’ the White House. The Texas legislature went so far as to formally admonish her.
In late June, under the De Priest auspices, a musicale was given at Washington Auditorium to which were invited all Republican members of Congress. With Congress adjourned and Washington DC therefore ‘empty,’ white invitees had a good excuse to decline. In the crowd of 3,000 only a dozen white faces appeared, of which only one, that of Illinois Representative Richard Yates, belonged to a House colleague. Congressman De Priest announced that he would give another musicale the following winter to test the sincerity of his Republican friendships on the race issue.
Shaffer, refusing the De Priest musicale invitation, warned De Priest: “You are now embarking on a perilous course which will, if you continue, disturb relations which have long been amicably settled in the South.”
President Hoover, in his memoirs, said that “the speeches of southern Senators and Congressmen… wounded [Mrs. Hoover] deeply.”
Despite this, Hoover, when he left office in 1933, sent Shaffer a personal letter stating “Before leaving this office I wish to express to you the appreciation I have for the devoted public service you have given these past years…”
Virginia’s 9th Congressional District
The De Priest incident and Shaffer’s response to it may have irrevocably damaged his career: He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection the following year. He was reappointed United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia in 1931, but resigned after only a year in office.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress