Book – Non-fiction. By Clarence Lusane. 2010. 544 pages.
The untold story of African Americans in the White House from the 18th century to the present, including the presidents who held people in bondage.
Official histories of the United States have ignored the fact that 25 percent of all U.S. presidents were slaveholders, and that black people were held in bondage in the White House itself. And while the nation was born under the banner of “freedom and justice for all,” many colonists risked rebelling against England in order to protect their lucrative slave business from the growing threat of British abolitionism. These historical facts, commonly excluded from schoolbooks and popular versions of American history, have profoundly shaped the course of race relations in the United States.
In this unprecedented work, Clarence Lusane presents a comprehensive history of the White House from an African American perspective, illuminating the central role it has played in advancing, thwarting or simply ignoring efforts to achieve equal rights for all. Here are the stories of those who were forced to work on the construction of the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the determined leaders who pressured U.S. presidents to outlaw slavery, White House slaves and servants who went on to write books, Secret Service agents harassed by racist peers, Washington insiders who rose to the highest levels of power, the black artists and intellectuals invited to the White House, community leaders who waged presidential campaigns, and many others. Juxtaposing significant events in White House history with the ongoing struggle for civil rights, Clarence Lusane makes plain that the White House has always been a prism through which to view the social struggles and progress of black Americans. [Publisher’s description.]
“Black folks built the White House in more ways than one. In this beautifully rendered narrative, Clarence Lusane recasts the whole of American history by revealing how slavery and emancipation, racial violence and civil rights, the black freedom movement and white supremacy, and dozens of unsung black heroes shaped the U.S. presidency and federal government in profound ways. Anyone who cares about this country and is not afraid of the truth must read this book, including President Obama. It can help him get his house in order.” —Robin D. G. Kelley, author Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
“Clarence Lusane is one of America’s most thoughtful and critical thinkers on issues of race, class and power.” —Manning Marable
“Barack Obama may be the first black president in the White House, but he’s far from the first black person to work in it. In this fascinating history of all the enslaved people, workers and entertainers who spent time in the president’s official residence over the years, Clarence Lusane restores the White House to its true colors.” —Barbara Ehrenreich
“In the age of the tea party and the short memory of racism in America, The Black History of the White House is a must read. In bringing to life the histories of racial exclusion and humiliation exercised from within the walls of the nation’s most abiding symbol, Clarence Lusane offers a searing reminder of the tenacious personal and political effort from the country’s highest office it has taken to uphold racial privilege in the US. But this is a story too of the mountains that had to be climbed so courageously in the reach for freedom and ultimately, as George Clinton has put it, ‘to make the White House black/brown,’ to represent all of America.” —David Theo Goldberg, author of The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism