When Franklin Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in 1939, the significance of the invitation did not go unnoticed. No reigning British Monarch had ever set foot on American soil, not even in colonial times. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, the United States and Great Britain oftentimes experienced tense relations, but President Roosevelt’s invitation to the King carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation. With Europe poised on the brink of war, Franklin Roosevelt realised the necessity of fostering closer ties between the two democracies.
Americans heartily welcomed England’s royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they travelled throughout the city. The couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.
The evening’s programme contained examples of traditional American music, and amongst those invited was a well-loved Indian baritone by the name of Chief White Feather. He began the programme by singing the British National Anthem, followed by Rule Britannia. After the applause, instead of sitting down, he began singing again, much to the surprise of those gathered, because this was not part of the programme. The song he chose had been very popular in Christian meetings since Beverly Shea had composed the music in 1933. It captivated the audience, as he sang the words of a most touching Gospel appeal.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.
Chief White Feather had been greatly moved by this song, and determined to sing it in the White House. The reaction to his singing was not the only spectacular event of that memorable evening, because the Chief was rewarded later by receiving the King’s handshake. He then bent down and asked the Queen, knowing that she was a religious woman, “Your Majesty, I would like to ask you, ‘Do you know Jesus as your personal Saviour?'” Without hesitation, she looked at him and said, “Some people know about God, some know about Christ, but the Lord Jesus is the Possessor of my heart. . . . My husband is also a believer.” Then with a smile on his face, the King of England said, “I’d rather have Jesus, too.”
And that concludes this little snatch of history. I have pieced it together from quite a number of articles on the Internet, some of which are slightly contradictory, and therefore I cannot guarantee that it is verbally correct, word for word, but I believe the essence of it is true. How sad that just three months later Britain entered war with Germany. I can clearly remember hearing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing this on the radio, even though I was only 8 years old at the time.