The Black History of the White House

The Black History of the White House
Clarence Lusane

Open Media Series | City Lights Books
San Francisco

Copyright © 2011 by Clarence Lusane

All Rights Reserved.

Cover design by Pollen, New York
Cover photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston: White House Easter egg roll, 1898.

The Open Media Series is edited by Greg Ruggiero and archived by the Tamiment Library, New York University.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lusane, Clarence, 1953-

The Black history of the White House / by Clarence Lusane.
p. cm. — (Open media series)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-87286-532-7

1. White House (Washington, D.C.)—History. 2. African Americans—Washington, D.C.—History. 3. African Americans—Washington, D.C.—Social conditions. 4. African Americans—Washington, D.C.—Biography. 5. Presidents—Relations with African Americans—History. 6. Presidents—United States—Racial attitudes—History. 7. Presidents—United States—Staff—History. 8. Slavery—Washington, D.C.—History. 9. United States—Race relations—Political aspects. I. Title.

F204.W5L86 2011



10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

City Lights Books are published at the City Lights Bookstore,
261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133.

To the Lusane House
(Clarence, Zezeh, Ellington, and Jessica)

To Dr. Ronald W. (Ron) Walters (1938–2010), a friend, mentor, and scholar-activist of the highest order whose life made a substantive difference.

Black People, White Houses
A Declaration of Independence and Racism: Founding Documents, Founding Fathers, and the Preservation of Slavery
Prelude: “Oney's White House Story
The President's House in the Home of the Abolitionist Movement
Prelude: Hercules' White House Story
A White House Built
Prelude: Peter's White House Story
Closed Doors: The White House and Presidents of Slavery
Prelude: Paul Jennings's White House Story
The White House Goes to War: Rebellion, Reconstruction and Retrenchment
Prelude: Elizabeth Keckly's White House Story
James Crow's White House
Prelude: Booker T. Washington's White House Story
The 1960s and the Crisis of Power: The White House and Black Mobilization
Prelude: Abraham Bolden's White House Story
Black Challenges to the White House The Campaigns to Make the White House Black
Prelude: Marcus Garvey's White House Story
The Latest Political Milestone: The Obamas in the White House
Prelude: Michelle Obama's White House Story

   What the White House looked like while human trafficking and enslavement of black people was thriving in Washington, D.C., 1858.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

   African American school children facing the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington at the U.S. Capitol, circa 1899. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

   President-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look in the mirror. January 20, 2009. (
White House website

   The building where the first president of the United States lived with his family and the blacks they enslaved, High Street, Philadelphia. Breton Lithograph from John Fanning Watson's
Annals of Philadelphia
(Philadelphia, 1830).
(Library Company of Philadelphia)

   Hercules, cook for George Washington, one of hundreds of blacks Washington enslaved in his lifetime. Painting by Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, circa 1795–97.
(© Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

   Anthony Benezet instructing black children. (
Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, Historical Poetical and Pictorial American Scenes, by J.W. Barber, 1850

 Slave pen, Alexandria, Virgina, circa 1863. Photograph by Andrew J. Russell.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Portrait of Phillis Wheatley, the first black woman to have her writings published.
Revue des Colonies Paris, 1834-1842, (

Benjamin Banneker's
Almanac. Woodcut portrait of the author by unknown artist, 1795.
, Historical Documents)

 The famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington that was removed from the White House just before the British army sacked and burned it in 1814. Oil painting by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 View from northeast of the damaged White House after the British army looted and burned it on August 24, 1814. Hand colored aquatint by William Strickland.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Poster of Blind Tom.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Inauguration of President Lincoln at U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1861.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Portrait of Elizabeth Keckly, 1861. Photographer unknown.
(Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University)

 Group of black “contrabands” make it to a Union camp during the Civil War. Wood engraving, from Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, vol. 18, no. 464 (August 20, 1864), p. 340.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Frederick Douglass, circa 1855.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 “Marching on!”—The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown's March in the streets of Charleston, February 21, 1865. Wood engraving in
Harpers Weekly,
v. 9, p. 165, March 18, 1865.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 The White House as it appeared around the time Frederick Douglass went there for meetings with President Lincoln.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Sojourner Truth and President Lincoln in the White House, October 29, 1964.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Earliest known photo Harriet Tubman, taken when she was already established as the Moses of her people. Photograph by H. B. Lindsley.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Booker T. Washington, circa 1895. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Black woman working in the White House kitchen, circa 1892. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 African American school children and teacher, studying leaves out of doors, circa 1899. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 The first black senator and representatives—in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States. Currier & Ives, 1872.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Video from the pro-KKK film,
Birth of a Nation
, 1915. Film directed by D. W. Griffith
. (Epoch Film Co., Madacy Entertainment)

 Jubilee Singers, circa 1875
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Frederick Douglass with his grandson, Joseph Henry Douglass, the violinist
. (Courtesy of The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation)

 Marian Anderson, 1940. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Civil rights leaders meet President Eisenhower, June 23, 1958. From left to right: Lester Granger, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, E. Frederic Morrow (White House Staff), President Eisenhower, Asa Phillip Randolph, William Rogers (Attorney General), Rocco Siciliano (White House Staff), Roy Wilkins. Photographer Unknown.
(Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum)

 Martin Luther King Jr. meets with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House Cabinet Room, March 18, 1966. Photograph by Yoichi R. Okamoto. (
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

 Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photograph Peter Pettus.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Condoleezza Rice in London, England on March 1
, 2005. Photographer Unknown.
(United States Department of State)

 Eli Yamin, Todd Williams, Stephen Massey, Sean Jones, First Lady Michelle Obama, Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Branford Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Delfaeyo Marsalis at the White House, June 2009.
(Photo courtesy of The White House)

 Marcus Garvey August 5, 1924. (
Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection)

 Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for presidential nomination, January 25, 1972. Photograph by Thomas J. O'Halloran.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 Eldridge Cleaver speaking at the Woods-Brown Outdoor Theatre, American University, October 18, 1968. Photograph by Marion S. Trikosko.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House's Blue Room, February 18, 2009. Photograph by Joyce N. Boghosian.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, in the Green Room of the White House, September 1, 2009. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
(White House Photo Office)

 The First Family visiting Ghana, Africa, July 11, 2009.
(The White House website)


During the time I was writing this book, Washington, D.C., had one of its worst snowstorms in history. As I waited in an extraordinarily long line at the grocery store, thinking of all the editing and writing I still had to do, a neighbor, who had switched to a much shorter line, beckoned me over. In a relatively short time I had paid for my groceries and was on my way. Her act of kindness likely saved me two hours and allowed me to get back to my desk to keep working. Ultimately, writing is an act of individual discipline, but it takes place in the social world. My neighbor, whom I had never met before and whose name I never knew, and many other unnamed individuals played small and large roles in making this work possible.

As usual, James Steele has always been the brother I never had biologically. He strongly recommended that I take on this project from the very beginning and has always been there whenever I needed him for wisdom, comment, or just a general take on the state of the world (or the NBA). I also want to give a shout to Maurice Jackson, who has kept his eye on this project and sent timely references and notes that fill the seams and crevices of this work. I also thank Clayton LeBouef who provided an important lead in my research on music at the White House.

I have also had the good fortune to be able to count on Darius and Debbie Mans for their helpful insights, caipirinhas, and sage analysis of black politics, U.S. history, and global
relations. Debbie was also one of the outside readers I trusted to give me real feedback on the final draft. Others who took this grand task were Wilmer Leon, Keisha Williams, Sylvia Hill, Geoffrey Jacques, and the aforementioned James Steele. Also, I want to express great appreciation to Danny Glover, David Theo Goldberg, Barbara Ransby, and the White House Historical Association.

Greg Ruggiero has more often than not been my repressed brain, creative spirit, and alternate consciousness while writing this book. He has been my indispensable editor. Engaged and passionate, he turned curves into sharp corners, replaced fictions with facts, identified and strengthened weaknesses, and helped to generate reflections. Thank you, Greg.

City Lights Books has been great to work with. Taking a comprehensive approach, the publisher created a website, set up speaking engagements, and made every other effort to ensure the success of this project. Demanding when necessary and supportive all the way, City Lights continues to produce books that advance our public discourse and intellectual life. My deep thanks to Stacey and the entire City Lights staff.

Finally, I want to once again acknowledge the support of my family. From D.C. to Detroit to Brazil to New Jersey to Alabama, my family has always been my encouraging and supportive foundation, the embodiment of all that matters. Above all, Zezeh and Ellington provide inexhaustible happiness and pleasure in my daily (non-writing) life.

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