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.
Praise for The Black History of The White House
"The Obamas were the first African American first family, but not the first residents. This thoroughly researched and gripping book shares the untold stories of some of the people who were enslaved by U.S. presidents, including stories of resistance and escape. Lusane describes the myriad ways that the White House and the lives of African Americans have been intertwined throughout U.S. history. This is the only book to document this essential story in our country’s history."
"He meticulously threads personal stories of slaves, builders, chefs, jazz performers, policymakers, and other historic figures (accompanied by occasional portraits) with sharp analyses of leaders facing the criticism and challenges of their times. . . . it's an eye-opening tribute and a provocative reminder of the many narratives that have gone untold."
"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."
"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."
"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
"Reading The Black History of the White House shows us how much we DON'T know about our history, politics, and culture. In a very accessible and polished style, Clarence Lusane takes us inside the key national events of the American past and present. He reveals new dimensions of the black presence in the US from revolutionary days to the Obama campaign. Yes, 'black hands built the White House' — enslaved black hands — but they also built this country's economy, political system, and culture, in ways Lusane shows us in great detail. A particularly important feature of this book its personal storytelling: we see black political history through the experiences and insights of little-known participants in great American events. The detailed lives of Washington's slaves seeking freedom, or the complexities of Duke Ellington's relationships with the Truman and Eisenhower White House, show us American racism, and also black America's fierce hunger for freedom, in brand new and very exciting ways. This book would be a great addition to many courses in history, sociology, or ethnic studies courses. Highly recommended!"
—Howard Winant, UC Santa Barbara