On the night that Michelle Obama delivered her powerful speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she cited a fact that stirred up quite a bit of controversy.
Marveling at the historical significance of Hillary Clinton’s nomination for president, Mrs. Obama described her own experience as the first black “mom-in-chief” in the White House.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” said the First Lady, herself the descendant of those once enslaved. “And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States. So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on earth.”
Many people found her words inspiring. But others accused Mrs. Obama of race-baiting and even misrepresenting the facts. There’s no way slaves built the White House, they commented on articles and social media, suggesting that she made it all up.
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Well, it so happens that slaves building the White House is a well-documented fact, recorded in many history books. The information also is posted on the White House Historical Association’s website, which describes the construction of the “President’s House” that began in 1792 on land ceded by Maryland and Virginia, two slave-holding states.
“The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs,” according to information on the website. “However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African American — enslaved and free — to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.”
It’s a matter of fact, not speculation, and should be taught in every classroom throughout the country. Think of the pride that it would instill in the heart of every young black child exposed to such rich history.
And that’s exactly what’s wrong with the way history has been taught in the United States. The rich contributions made by blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and other non-European cultures have been so marginalized that we’re left with a skewed picture and a detriment to a society based on diversity.
Still, there are those who will never accept the truth, no matter how much it’s presented. While acknowledging that black slaves built the White House, Fox News television host Bill O’Reilly only added fuel to the fire when he stated: “Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government. ...”
That’s a version of history still perpetuated by many slavery apologists.
Ignorance is indeed bliss to those stuck in a white-washed past.