The Black History of the White House

The Black History of the White House

"The ugly truth about the White House and its history of slavery."
Jul 27, 2016

"I'm glad that she mentioned the role of enslaved Americans at the White House, because she presented a larger audience with a history that most people are not being taught in our schools," Lusane, also a professor emeritus at American University, told The Washington Post. "I certainly wasn't taught that not only were many of our presidents slave owners, but that the most renowned building in our nation was, in part, built by slave labor."

- The Washington Post

"Clarence Lusane featured on Democracy Now"
Feb 17, 2014

Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, on Democracy Now discussing why knowledge of the stories of slaves who were owned by--and labored for--past presidents is an essential topic for discussion on President's Day.

- Democracy Now

"Missing From Presidents Day: The People They Enslaved" by Clarence Lusane
Feb 13, 2014

Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, shares his most recent essay

- Clarence Lusane, The Zinn Education Project

Interview on NPR's Morning Edition
Jul 28, 2016

 "Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House and chairperson of Howard University's political science department, says slave laborers who built the White House were both skilled and unskilled. Carpentry work, for example, was skilled, he tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne, but 'a lot of it was just hard, intense manual labor, often done under punishing weather conditions.'"

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

"Clarence Lusane interviewed about the film 'The Butler' "
Aug 16, 2013

 Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, discusses the accuracy of Oprah's and Forest's new film, "The Butler." 

- Anetra Gaines, WUSA9

"Buying Freedom Through Dressmaking"
Dec 5, 2012

"The new movie 'Lincoln' explores the last months of Abraham Lincoln's life and sheds light on prominent figures of the time. One lesser-known person is former slave Elizabeth Keckley. She became a close confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln. Host Michel Martin speaks with professor Clarence Lusane about Keckley's contributions to American history."

- Michel Martin, NPR

Clarence Lusane, author, "The Black History of the White House"
Aug 29, 2011

Watch Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, discuss the origins of his recently published work about the contributions which both black men and women have made throughout the White House's history.

- C-Span, YouTube

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 Black History of the White House
Jul 4, 2011

Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, discusses the book, race, politics and US history on The Voice of Russia.

- Ricardo Young, The Voice of Russia

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

Why Herman Cain will not become president
Jun 29, 2011

"Don't purchase your tickets to a Herman Cain inaugural ball just yet.

In a dismal Republican field for the 2012 presidential nomination, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza has often done better in straw polls and at debates than his more well-known challengers. A recent poll from Iowa showed him coming in third behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann."

- Clarence Lusane, The Progressive

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 Black History of the White House
Apr 13, 2011

"Clarence Lusane presents a history of African-Americans and the White House. Mr. Lusane reports that 25% of American Presidents were slave holders and recalls the many slaves who worked at the White House such as those who assisted in its construction. His history also includes the African-American men and women who were employed at the White House in the 20th century, including the first black secret service agent, Abraham Bolden. Clarence Lusane presents his book at the Harlem Library in New York City."


African-Americans and the White House
Apr 8, 2011

"The White House is a symbol of American power all over the world. But for many African-Americans, this most famous of American homes also represents a rarely discussed history of exclusion and inequality. Rebecca Sheir talks with Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House, about the ties between the White House and people of African descent, from the slaves and servants who worked there, to the activists who visited in the name of social and racial justice."


SCOTUS Update; Calif. Ed. Report; Black History of White House
Mar 14, 2011

Barack Obama may be the first African-American to become president of the U.S., but the White House has a long and complicated history with black Americans. Dr. Clarence Lusane, an associate professor of political science at American University, chronicles much of that history in the new book The Black History of the White House. He discusses how the relationship of the black community to the White House has evolved from the presidency of George Washington to the present day.

Interview begins around 35 minutes.

- The Michael Eric Dyson Show,

New America Now
Feb 25, 2011

Listen to Clarence Lusane's podcast at New America Now, Clarence's interview starts about 34 minutes into the show.

- New America Now,

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."

White House, Black History
Feb 21, 2011

"Did you know that George Washington schemed around a Pennsylvania law that would have forced him to free some of his slaves — or that Herbert Hoover demanded that White House servants hide when he walked by? Two new books explore the long, complex relationship between African Americans and the White House. They include stories of when slaves laid the foundation of the new presidential residence in Washington as well as how blacks interact with those they served at the White House."

- Michel Martin, Tell Me More

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.'”

Positively Obama: Living with Black History in the White House
Feb 8, 2011

"'The White House has always reflected the paradoxes, contradictions, conflicts that have existed in the country as a whole,' said Clarence Lusane, author of 'The Black History of the White House' and an associate professor of political science at American University.

“'While we have always thought of it as the iconic embodiment of American democracy and American freedom, in fact it embodies both freedom and slavery, democracy and undemocratic practices that have impacted on the people of this country. Those of us who grew up here and were taught American history, we were never given that kind of broader perspective that perhaps the White House as a symbol may embody some contradictions.'"

- Steven Barboza, The Atlanta Post

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."

The 'Black History' Of America's White House
Feb 3, 2011

"For many Americans, the White House stands as a symbol of liberty and justice. But its gleaming facade hides harsh realities, from the slaves who built the home to the presidents who lived there and shaped the country's racial history, often for the worse. In 'The Black History of the White House,' Clarence Lusane traces the path of race relations in America by telling a very specific history — the stories of those African-Americans who built, worked at and visited the White House."

- Mary Louise Kelly,

Race relations and the White House
Jan 28, 2011

"It is heralded as the 'people's house' but for the past two centuries the White House has shared America's tumultuous history when it comes to race. From serving as slaves to assuming the highest office in the land blacks have always played a role at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Katty Kay talks to author Clarence Lusane, who has chronicled the evolving roles in his book 'The Black History of the White House.'"

- Katty Kay, BBC World News America

Dr. Clarence Lusane - The Black History of the White House
Jan 28, 2011

"In a new book entitled, 'The Black History of the White House,' American University professor Dr. Clarence Lusane explores the untold contributions of African Americans in the White House, from the generations of enslaved people who helped to build it or were forced to work there, to its first Black first family, the Obamas."

- The Tavis Smiley Show

New podcast posted: Interview with author Clarence Lusane
Jan 24, 2011

"On this episode we play our interview with historian Clarence Lusane, author of 'The Black History of the White House' from City Lights Press."

- Combined Sources, Political Affairs

Unsung Heroes: Clarence Lusane, 'The Black History of the White House,' at Politics & Prose
Jan 24, 2011

"Parker's heroic actions, meanwhile, were quickly scrubbed from the official record. His story is one of many unearthed by American University professor Clarence Lusane in 'The Black History of the White House' ($20, City Lights), a look at African Americans as slaves, cooks, designers, builders, performers, officials and — ultimately — President."

- Stephen M. Deusner, Washington Post Express

Reject the Confederacy, Celebrate Reconstruction
Jan 18, 2011

"While arguments about the war generate fierce debate, the period following the Civil War, known as Reconstruction, remains virtually unknown to large portions of the American public. Few university students, let alone your average citizen, can identify the time period, Reconstruction leaders, its accomplishments, or reasons for its collapse. And yet, it is the era that some have referred to as the country's greatest moment of democracy and it should be taught and remembered and, unlike the Confederacy, honored."

- Clarence Lusane, PowellsBooks.Blog

Restoring the White House to Its True Colors
Jan 14, 2011

"In his new book, The Black History of the White House, Clarence Lusane, political science professor in the School of International Service, traces the ways in which slavery, emancipation, racial violence, and civil rights have shaped the U.S. presidency. From slaves and servants to the first black Secret Service agent to work at the White House, Lusane gives voice to those whose stories have been excluded from the history books."

- Adrienne Frank, American Today

"On With Leon" XM-Sirius
Jan 8, 2011

Clarence Lusane is interviewed by Wilmer Leon, "On With Leon" XM-Sirius

- Wilmer Leon, On with Leon

Listen to Black Agenda Radio on the Progressive Radio Network, with Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey
Jan 4, 2011

"Protection of the institution of slavery was the price the South demanded for joining the United States in the revolt against Britain, and the North was also 'absolutely invested in the slave system,' says Dr. Clarence Lusane. Dr. Lusane's new book, from City Lights Publishers, details George Washington’s desperate efforts to gain the return of his prized personal slaves who successfully fled the presidential residence in Philadelphia."

- Glen Ford, Black Agenda Radio on PRN

2011 Economy; Don't Ask, Don’t Tell; Philly’s President’s House
Dec 30, 2010

"Earlier this month, the city of Philadelphia opened 'The President's House,' the first national memorial dedicated to the history of enslaved Africans. The memorial and the accompanying exhibition, subtitled 'Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation,' highlights George Washington and the nine slaves he held while living in Philadelphia when it served as the nation’s capitol from 1790-1800. Dr. Clarence Lusane, associate professor at American University and author of the new book The Black History of The White House, discusses the new memorial."

- The Michael Eric Dyson Show,

Black History of the President's House
Dec 16, 2010

"For nearly a decade, members of the local community organized to ensure that the exhibit would address the fact that President George Washington enslaved people in this locale, and that their historic presence would be acknowledged and represented here as well. Although initially resistant to the idea, the National Park Service has inaugurated an exhibit that features material telling the story of the nine people enslaved by the Washingtons, and a long struggle has resulted in a very public revelation of some painful truths about the founding of our nation."

- Clarence Lusane, The Huffington Post

TJMS: New Book By Clarence Lusane Details The Black History Of The White House
Dec 15, 2010

"Lusane explained that one of his motivations for writing the book revolves around conservatives and Tea Party members talking about taking back America. Lusane told Roland, 'what they are really saying is take America backwards. For some of them, they want to go not only before the 1960s some want to go before the 1860s.' Lusane also said, 'they [Tea Party members and Conservatives] make the argument that there was a time in this country when there was no racial conflict and everything was fine.' Lusane said each generation is obligated to repeat and remind ourselves of the real history of the country."

- Roland Martin, Washington Watch Podcast

Clarence Lusane on Juan Williams, Chris Rogers on Pakistan
Oct 29, 2010

"This week on CounterSpin: The firing of Juan Williams from NPR might seem like an inside media story; it's become more as Williams, who was let go after saying people in 'Muslim garb' on planes make him nervous, has become something of a cause celebre for the right. We'll talk about what it all says about the present moment with Clarence Lusane, professor at American University and author of the forthcoming The Black History of the White House."

Interview with Clarence Lusane begins around minute 10.

- CounterSpin,

Sold Brothers: The Bizzaro World of Williams and Thomas
Oct 26, 2010

"Conservative attacks on NPR have little to do with the substance of the case involving Williams and more to do with what is perceived to be an opening to attack non-right-wing media. Palin, DeMint and others hope to chill any news coverage that does not favor their extremist agenda even if that means left-baiting NPR. Along with Ginni Thomas, they seek any opportunity to mobilize their base against real or imagined liberal bias or progressive advancement. Williams and Thomas both sold their soul to the right-wing devil many moons ago. No tears should be shed for either one let alone any offer of apologies."

- Clarence Lusane, The Huffington Post

From the White House to Obama's House
Oct 18, 2010

"Today, to confront the issue of rising racial animosity as well as the likely changed political environment that he will face after the November 2010 elections, Obama will need the one thing that Theodore Roosevelt's White House lacked: courage. Congressional Republicans and the conservative movement will relentlessly pursue an agenda of obstructionism, rollback, and anti-progressivism. The White House can continue to chase a fruitless strategy of bi-partisanship or realize that in the 2-6 years it has left, it is in an ideological and political battle for the future of the nation. Whatever the configuration of Congress turns out to be, President Obama must employ all the powers of his office, both real and symbolic, to push through policies that genuinely advance the nation’s interest and those of the people in it."

- Dr. Clarence Lusane,

Racism, Shirley Sherrod and the Obama White House
Jul 31, 2010

"This article is an excerpt from The Black History of the White House forthcoming in the Open Media Series by City Lights Books,"

- Clarence Lusane, ZCommunications

Latin America Sees Increase In African Refugees
Nov 23, 2009

"The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports an increase in asylum seekers from several African countries to South America. Among countries seeing a spike in asylum seekers from Africa are Brazil and Argentina. Guest host Jennifer Ludden discusses the trend with journalist Anil Mundra, who has reported on African immigration to Argentina. Mundra is joined by Professor Clarence Lusane, of American University. Lusane works closely with African rights organizations in Brazil."

- Jennifer Ludden, Tell Me More, NPR

Clarence Lusane: Obama, They're Just Not That Into You, Move On
Oct 1, 2009

"Clarence Lusane is Associate Professor at the American University School of International Service, and is a contributing author to Changing the Race: Racial Politics and the Election of Barack Obama, being published today by Applied Research Center. The edited volume features 20 prominent thinkers and activists on race and the 2008 election.

Barely nine months into his administration, President Obama finds himself at a cross-roads. At one level, a top policy priority, health care reform, is in trouble. His popular support has steadily decreased and angry mobs and extremist media have dominated the conversation putting Democratic supporters on the defensive and made Republicans feel emboldened in their obstructionist behavior. Even before a real bill has been fashioned, the White House and Hill Democrats have tossed out (or hinted at a willingness to cast off) key progressive provisions."

- Clarence Lusane, RaceWire

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."