. . . In a House Built by Slaves . . .

Invisible 5

Michelle Obama shook the world’s foundation during her speech at the Democratic National Convention on Monday, July 25, 2016 when she said, “That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

Social media lit up in disbelief and horror that what she said could be true.

T’is true, boys and girls.

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

I read this book for younger readers the week after Michelle Obama’s speech.  Beautiful, lyrical poetry and illustrations.  Names of slaves who worked hard to make the clay to build the bricks.  In the author’s note, the author teaches that Washington, D.C. was then a forest so the slaves were also tasked with clearing the land to erect the house.

The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House by Jesse J. Holland

Reading this was eye opening about the presidents who owned slaves.  Typically the focus is on Thomas Jefferson, but Holland’s work exposed me to George Washington, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson as well.  Very illuminating.

Holland also wrote Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, D.C. by Jesse J. Holland which is on my list to read.

I also plan to read Clarence Lusane’s The Black History of the White House, Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, and Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons.

Paul Jennings wrote his own memoir titled A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison that is available online via UNC Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South project.


Additional reading

Danielle Young’s article from the Root.com “6 Historic Structures in American That Were Built by Slaves

Smithsonian magazine article “The Slaves of the White House Finally Get to Have Their Story Told



%d bloggers like this: