Archive for the ‘Black History’ Category

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

August 20, 2016

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 “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




It’s 2008 & We’re Still Making Black History!

February 1, 2008

Happy Black History Month! 

Thanks to the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, what started as Black History Week became Black History Month in 1976.  

If you’ve read Freshman Focus or know someone who has, then you know that each chapter begins with a Black history fact.  Today’s blog contains a sample of key events that happened throughout history on February 1. Visit this site for a more detailed listing of February 1st Black History Moments.

February 1

1810 – The first insurance company managed by African Americans, the American Insurance Company of Philadelphia, is established.

1902 – Langston Hughes is born in Joplin, Missouri.  He will be known as one of the most prolific American poets of the 20th century and a leading voice of the Harlem Renaissance.   In addition to his poetry, Hughes will achieve success as an anthologist and juvenile author, write plays and librettos, found theater groups, and be a widely read columnist and humorist.  Among his honors will be the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1960.


1938 – Sherman Hemsley is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He will become an actor well known for his roles in the TV shows All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Amen.

1957 – P.H. Young becomes the first African American pilot, flying on a United States scheduled passenger airline.

1960 – Four African American college students from North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, North Carolina sit at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter and refuse to leave when denied service, beginning a sit-in protest.


1965 – Ruby Dee becomes the first African American thespian to play a major role at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

1978 – The first stamp of the United States Postal Service’s Black Heritage USA series honors Harriet Tubman, famed abolitionist and “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.

2008 – The Brown Bookshelf launches 28 Days Later, its first initiative celebrating authors and illustrators of African American children’s literature.


To say that we are jazzed about 28 Days Later is putting it mildly.  Individually and as a team, we’ve been working hard over the past month to prepare for today.  I’m sure our friends and family are tired of hearing the words:  Brown Bookshelf, interview, review, Paula, Varian, Don, Kelly, Carla, and WordPress.  LOL!  But this is fun for us as well as hard work.  In the past month, I’ve researched, read about, read books by Rita Williams-Garcia (2.4.08), M. Sindy Felin (2.9.08), Allison Whittenberg (2.14.08), Karen English (2.21.08), Coe Booth (2.22.08), and Valerie Wilson Wesley (2.27.08) all in preparation for February 1 – 29th.  We’ve joined the Myspace Revolution and got busy friending fellow authors, libraries, librarians, and those with a passion for children’s literature.  It’s game time not just for the Patriots and the Giants, but for the five of us at The Brown Bookshelf!