The Black History of the White House

The Black History of the White House

Press Reviews

Retriever Weekly

"Dr. Lusane points out the reality of the political system in that 'United States presidents have advocated and fought for major progressive racial relations only when space opens up for them to push radical change.' . . . Today, when reflecting on the past, it is important to consider how far along this country has come and the impact of what having a black president means to this country and the world." —Huyen Bui, Retriever Weekly

Journal of Social Work Values & Ethics Vol. 9, No. 1

"The historical patterns elucidated within Lusane's work will have a profound impact on the perceptions of social work students (BSW and MSW). Concepts of race relationships will be altered. In addition, I found that the biographical sketches are reminiscent of Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. . . . The book will be a great asset to the intellectual and emotional development of social work students."

The Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 3 August 2011

"Dr. Clarence Lusane, program director for Comparative and Regional Studies at American University, painted an interesting link between African Americans and the White House dating all the way back to its construction. Throughout the course of his research, Dr. Lusane found that slave labor was used in the construction of the White House and other buildings in Washington, D.C.

His book, The Black History of the White House, will certainly be a lesson to us all."

- Amber Gray, The Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 3 August 2011

Rethinking Schools

"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."

The Observer's "Very Short List"

"Clarence Lusane's Black History of the White House came out late last year and flew under the radar at most of the major book reviews. But Lusane is an elegant, impassioned writer, and the book—which is full of stories we’d never encountered in American History 101—is totally engrossing.
Lusane starts off in the 18th century, working his way up to Barack Obama’s White House. Presidents Washington, Madison, and Roosevelt (the first) come in for especially close examination, but you’ll also read about 'Blind Tom' Wiggins (an autistic savant who was the first African-American to give a professional performance at the White House), James Benjamin Parker (an extremely large man who became a national hero after helping to subdue President McKinley’s assassin), and other figures who are more or less ignored by conventional historians. This is a serious, necessary book, but not a humorless one, and one of our favorite sections involves the forgotten campaign to draft Dizzy Gillespie to run against Lyndon Johnson in 1964: 'Rather than "secretaries" he would have "ministers,"' Lusane writes, 'including Max Roach as Minister of Defense, bassist Charles Mingus as Minister of Peace, Malcolm X as Attorney General, composer Duke Ellington as Ambassador to the Vatican, Louis Armstrong as Minister of Agriculture, and singer Ray Charles would be in charge of the Library of Congress. Other positions were to go to Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Woody Herman, and Count Basie.'"

Publishers Weekly

"Lusane (Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice) returns to the nation's highest office in his latest work, tracing the seldom-revealed contributions of black men and women in the White House, from the days of its construction to the present. 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. Whether considering slave-owning presidents who publicly skirted their participation in the practice, exploring Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement and its aftermath, or discussing contemporary instances, like the Beer Summit, and questioning whether the Obama presidency signals a post-racial era, Lusane offers a vital addition to American history. The thorough density with which he approaches his subject may slow the pace, but scholars will find an intelligent account of one the most controversial and revered seats of power. Lusane's effort is much more than a catchy title or revisionist tome: it's an eye-opening tribute and a provocative reminder of the many narratives that have gone untold."

The Chicago Sun Times

"The author concludes from his research that there is little doubt the first African American in the White House was a slave. In fact, 25 percent of our presidents were slaveholders. And between the time of slavery and now — with our nation's first black president — there is a long and storied history of blacks in the White House, from servants to lobbyists to Secret Service agents, reporters, activists, officials and more."

The Philadelphia Tribune

"It is commonly excluded from schoolbooks and history that 25 percent of all U.S. presidents were slaveholders — with the White House serving as a place of bondage to slaves. 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. 'The Black History of the White House (City Light, $19.95)' by Clarence Lusane presents a comprehensive — yet untold — history of the White House from an African American perspective. In illuminating the central role Blacks played in this country's history, Lusane charts the course of race relations in the Untied States.

“'The Black History of the White House' features stories of those who were forced to work on the construction of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and the White House slaves and servants who went on to write books. Readers hear from the Secret Service agents who were harassed by their peers to the Washington insiders who rose to the highest levels of power and behind-the-scenes with Black artists and intellectuals invited to the White House.

“'This book focuses on the historic relationship/contradiction between the declaration of freedom and equality by the nation's founders — and as embodied in the president and the presidency — and the systematic and state-sanctioned discrimination against African Americans and other people of color in the United States,' explained Lusane. 'The White House, as symbol and substance, is the prism through which the long history of Black marginalization is viewed. This book argues that while Barack Obama's election is a milestone, it does not undo the historic or contemporary racial barriers that have always defined the nation, and that contentions that we are now in a post-racial America are false. It further argues that many U.S. Presidents, including those under which major racial progress occurred (Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson), have been complicit in Black marginalization, and that Obama will have to overcome the institution of the presidency if he is to achieve real progress in the area of race relations.'”

USA Today

"Those who think they know their presidents may be in for surprises in Clarence Lusane's fascinating social history that begins: 'More than one in four U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold, bred and enslaved black people for profit. Of the 12 presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House.' Lusane, an American University professor, weaves in stories of people like Paul Jennings, born into slavery on James Madison's farm, who at 10 was a White House footman and in 1865 wrote the first White House memoir, A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison."

Sacramento Bee

"In eloquent language, Lusane shows how the African American experience helped shape a series of presidential administrations and governmental policies."

Boston Globe

 "The White House was built with slave labor and at least six US presidents owned slaves during their time in office. With these facts, Clarence Lusane, a political science professor at American University, opens 'The Black History of the White House'(City Lights), a fascinating story of race relations that plays out both on the domestic front and the international stage. As Lusane writes, 'The Lincoln White House resolved the issue of slavery, but not that of racism.' Along with the political calculations surrounding who gets invited to the White House are matters of musical tastes and opinionated first ladies, ingredients that make for good storytelling."


"Despite the racial progress represented by the election of the first black president of the U.S., the nation's capital has a very complicated and often unflattering racial history. Lusane traces the racial history of the White House from George Washington to Barack Obama."

Library Journal

"Slaves have toiled in the White House; 25 percent of our Presidents were slaveholders. Lusane reminds readers of the place of the President's house, from its very construction onward, in African American history, a tale all-too rarely told."

Kirkus Reviews

" . . . carefully documents the travails of a polity in which African-Americans were so essential and prevalent, but that struggled endlessly to maintain, then dismantle, the institution of slavery. . . . A lively, opinionated survey, telling a story that the textbooks too often overlook."