tv Q A CSPAN August 29, 2011 6:00am-7:00am EDT
little research. write a short book, about 150 pages and trace it through there, what turned out to be. most people probably didn't know that out out of the first 12 presidents had slaves. not only the white house but the president's house that george washington lived in when he was washington lived in when he was in philadelphia
forpre slenting. each chapter opens with a long narrative about a particular individual that i thought really captured the moment and era in broad strokes? terms of the race politics and presidential politics of the period. >> who is oni? >> i had never heard of this woman at all. all of us who grew up in the united states learned the history of the first president. we certainly learned about george washington and stories about him cutting down cherry trees and never telling a lie.
what we had very little information were the individuals that were enslaved to him. oni was one of the nine slaves that travelled and lived with him during the presidency. for most of his presidency in philadelphia, she was there. young woman. early 20's, 21, 22. she found out in early 1796 that martha washington was planning to give her away as a wedding gift. during slavery, they were given away. this was upsetting to her, the waubs had promised when they died, they would free the
slaves. but if she was going to be given away, that meant her whole life would be committed to slavery. she began to plan an escape. she wrote that one night, the washington's were waiting for dinner and she went out the backdoor. they put out advertisements for her. they were very, very upset. that in and of itself is fascinating. we are talking about a young woman who had never travelled anywhere on her own and escapes from the most powerful person in the country, the president who has the entire government at his dispose al. she escapes from him. that -- if the story had ended
there, it would be fascinating. she escaped and goes to new hampshire. she's discovered accidentally by a friend of the washingtons who informed the washingtons that they accidentally ran into oni maria judge on the streets. she was not sure why oni was there by herself. she told the washingtons now they knew where she was at. because george was very image conscious, this was important because george was in the center of the ab abolitionist move mement
george was very sensitive. he was opposed to slavery although he didn't free anyone. he didn't want to be public about going after her. he sent his nephew to meet with her. she agreed. the nephew said, well, oni, we would like you to come back. we can work it out. things got out of control, you escaped. but all is for given. come back and eventually, you will be free. her response was that, i'm free now. i don't see the rational for giving up this freedom to go back to slavery. she says no. nephew goes back to washington and says she refused to come. rather than give it up, rather
than say she escaped, we don't like it, we'll leave it alone, george decides they are going to kid snap her. they are going to send the nephew back, which was fairly common. the slave catching industry had risen. there were people all over the country willing to kidnap people whether they were escaped slaves or not and bring them back. nephew goes back to new hampshire. he meets with the family that had initially exposed oni to the washingtons, turns out that the family is really anti-slaver. once they find out what the nephew is up to, they delay him and warn oni. she get as way. the nephew goes back, george dies not long afterwards and oni is pretty much left alone.
>> what's the legal status at that mo williams mo williams mo williams > her? >> she was an escaped slave and fugitive. there was an slave cause that said if an slave escaped and went to another state, that state was obligated to arrest that person and send them back to the other state. in 1792, the fugitive slave act made very clear federal laws. however, mft states in the north
refused to enforce the law. they would not allow law enforcement personnel to arrest people. they would not arrest people who helped people escape from slavery. there was a contention going on long before the civil war broke out. part of the just if i indication articulated by the states was there there were states in the north who were not enforcing federal laws. >> where did you find the oni story? >> there is some information on line. i was able through initial contact was individuals in philadelphia to get information. now the philadelphia connection is important because 1999 or so, the national park service decided to move the liberty bell from its old location to a
brand-new pavillion. this was going to be extremely fency. it turns out where they were going to build the pavilion, was over the land that held the house of george washington and his slaves was at that location, specifically over the part of the house where the slaves were kept. once this was found out, there was protests. you can't build this brand new home to the liberty bell and ignore what had happened at this very site. it was like a 10 or 12 year battle. finally the national park
extremely loyal to washington. out of nine individuals, he was the only one that washington would allow to go back and forth between philadelphia and mount vernon by him self without being guarded. there was a great deal of faith that he was going to be there with him. at the end of washington's presidency, when he was preparing to move back to mount vernon, he escaped. they never found hercules. they thought he was in philadelphia but he was gone. it's my sense that he was probably in touch the brother of sally hemings who were two individuals who were enslaved by thomas jefferson. a lot of people know, she was
the african-american woman who was a slave and also a mistress of thomas jefferson. her brother was also a cook. he had travelled with jefferson in paris and went to cooking schools in france. he is a very, very talented cook as well. they were both in philadelphia at the same time. he bought his freedom at one point with the stip layings that jefferson said he had to train someone else to cook before he could leave. even though he had saved enough money to buy his freedom. i believe probably was influenced by the fact that not only did he buy his freedom but oney had escaped. there was a way in which there
was buildup of freedom and reaching for freedom on the part of people enslaved to washington. the other thing oney talked about later on. she gave interer views and lived to be in her 80's. she learned to read and become active in her community, she talks about not only being influenced by the haitian revolution in the early 1790's. people enslaved around the world knew about this but also influenced by the american revolution. the individuals the closest to those debates were many individuals who were enslaved serving tea, cleaning the rooms
and heard these debates and arguments. they heard people were willing to risk their lives for freedom. >> what were the rules of slavery? they weren't allowed to write and read? >> it varied across the country but mostly the bottom line was that, people were going to be enslaved for life. they had no citizenship rights, no human rights. most of the slave owners, particularly in the south, prohibited reading, learning to write. other than work skills, there was very little opportunity for any kind of personnel developme development. as it turns out, slaves become
extremely skilled because they did the work around the plantation and farms. they were also a great deal of slaves in what constituted the cities of that country in that period. that meant all of the buildings built. all of the large structures built up and down the east coast from libraries to uflts and city hall were built by slave labor. that means people are carpentry skills, masonry skills and even architecture skills it wasn't nestle recognized or acknowledged or compensated. >> do you have slaves in your family background? >> yes, i don't know who they
are. i've done a great deal of research personally. like many african-americans, there are certain cutoffs. it wasn't until the 1870 census that people who were enslaved were lisinaed as individuals. prior to that, people were lisinaed as john whose 12. bob who is 4. unless you had very specific names and locations, it's very, very difficult to do that tracing. i live in washington, d.c. i've had access to the national archives. i've spent a bit of time going through census records. my families names were unusual. i wasn't looking for 1,000 smiths or johnsons.
but lusane is common. my mother's side are unique. found some records. i've done research at the library of congress. a lot of information is n'diayeries. i found the diary of the family that owned my family from alabama. in that were some references to individual that's were enslaved. it's very to connect all of those dots. where were you born? >> detroit. my mother is from alabama and my father is from louisiana. >> the name lucane means what?
>> it's a creole name. you see it ai in texas, louisiana areas. there's not a lot. i used to look in phone books. over the last seven or eight years or so, in part because of the internet, i've had more contact with people who are named lusane. >> you did your undergrad work where? >> wayne state in detroit. >> you studied what? >> communications. radio, tv and film. >> what was next? >> i spent a few years working mostly as a journalist covering internation will issues. eventually i worked on capitol hill for about eight years.
for the d.c. delegate for two years and five or six years for what was called the democratic study group. a lot of the posters and boards on the house floor, those were the kind of things i worked on. however 1994, the republicans took control of congress and one of the first things they did when they came into office in january, they defunded several organizations. the office had been there close to 40 years overnight, the office was closed down. where did you get your phd? >> howard in 1997. >> how long have you been
teaching at american? >> now going on close do 15 years. >> who was paul jennings? >> paul jennings. another favorite character. maybe we shouldn't call him a character. another individual who pops out of the research. he was enslaved to the madisons james and dolly. by the time he was 10 years old, he was working at the white house. this was good because he happened to be there in 1814 when the white house was burnt down when the british invaded and burnt the city down including much of what was in the white house. he was there on that day when further down the road, the british were burning and looting and headed to the waus. the white house staff both slave
and unslave were trying to grab whatever they could. we know this story because in 1865, paul jennings wrote a short memoir. one of the first of someone that actually worked in the white house. he tell that's story of being at the bedside when james madison died. he also tells the story of how dolly madison reniged on the deal that he was supposed to be free after jachls passed. probably for financial reasons, dolly didn't release him immediately. he had to work and save to buy his freedom a few years later.
>> i found that memoir. it's short. a number of stories come from there. at the end of dolly madison's life, did he help her pay her bil bills? >> very. different from today when someone leaves the presidency, they are secure for life. that wasn't the case during that period. her friends and family base you cannily abandoned her. she did him wrong, he felt some compassion, some human compassion. he writes that he would often visit her and bring her food, probably give her money when he had it. he looked after her. by that period, by the tate
1814s or so. she was up there in age and had no one to look at her. he did what he could with what he had. he become some what successful once he bought his freedom. he stayed in washington, d.c. and got a government job which he eventually retired from in the 1860's. what he doesn't talk about is his central role in a spring of 1848 when the city was bustling with parties celebrating a lot of revolution 57ing in europe while people were celebrating freedom in europe, they were
enslaving people in the united states. as it turns out, that was the week that jennings and two other freed african-americans had been part of this plan to bring a bolt koun to the docs, people would come down to the boat on saturday night in ones and twos and sneak on to the bolt. it wasn't unusual on saturday night to see african-americans walking around because that's the night people had off. seeing them walk around wasn't unusual. the plan worked. close to 80 people got on the boat. the boat took off. the idea was that they would have such a head start that by the time they realized on sunday theshgs could get away.
they hit bad weather. it forced the boat to wait for weather to get better. it was still not going to be a problem as long as no one knew where they were at. but back in washington, someone betrayed them. they initially thought they escaped on foot headed north. this person said, no. there on a boat headed south. they got on a faster boat and they were captured and brought back to washington, d.c. it turns out paul was not on the boat. he wasn't on the boat but he was
also never exposed. he become active for trying to get freedom for people who were caught. no one came forward and said this is the guy who contacted them. it wasn't discovered until after he died when research into that particular incident uncovered that role. >> the story about paul jennings and daniel webster? >> yes. eventually worked out a deal with daniel webster but in some way -- left dolly madison. webster was working out with him to get his freedom. webster would be a key individual in the period around issues of challenging slavery
and leading up to the civil war. >> at the height of the numbers, how many slaves were there in theed united states? >> 4 million. there were millions. >> how many none slaves were there at the time? >> probably about 200,000 or so. >> was it 40% of the country then or the other would be white? >> it varied. overall african-americans were probably about 30 #%, 40% of the countried. but depending on where you were at. likely north carolina, likely alabama.
slaves were a large part of the population. in the 1800 area, how much was a slave worth. when you had to buy your freedom, how much did it cost a slave? >> good question. it seemed to very varrid. a great deal depended on how much had been invested. men versus women. children were a. it could vary from a couple of hur hurst. someone young with many years ahead of them could go for a high price. then there were issues of taking the whole family.
part of the family. >> who was peter? >> peter was one of the car pen she shers. there were five black carpenters that worked on the white house and also started built the capitals. there was a fierce negotiation right after the constitution was ratified. the debate over where to have the seat of government. the south wanted to have this seat in the south. compromise was worked out that during the 10-year period it was estimated it would take to build this brand-new city that new
government would not be in an old city, it would be a brand-new city. that the government could be in pennsylvania. at the end of that 10-year period, at 1800, it would come back to this new city, which was washington, d.c. this land was seed the by marinovicing and virginia at the time. it was jungle. trees and rocks. that was it. that whole area. this area had to be cleaned. threes had to be cut down and dragged away. road hz to be saved, buildings built. many of that labor was slave labor what we have not focussed on in terms of our own
acknowledgment is that slave labor and the building of the white house and capitol, these i ish. that's part of what i was trying to do to bring that history out. >> this is a thick 600 page book. you started out thinking you were going to write a small booth. >> this is a paper back. how is it done? >> we are in the third printing. we were a bit surprised at what has been essentially kind of the success of the book i started
out with them for no page lim s limits. city lights said write it until it is finished. i said fine. i had no idea that it would grow like it did. as the story started to emerge, it become impossible not to include oney or peter or paul jennings. even with all the individual $that used to say, my uncle used to be a barber or my grandmother worked at the white house. we didn't think of the
particular relation shship and thousand that and the white house as a global icon, probably the stat u of liberty was the only other equivalent, people know the white house but we don't know the white house history. >> here what's you say page 19 of the book. i'll read the paragraph >> u.s. history is tout and learned through filters. everything from school books to movies and/or al traditions, historical markers and museums, we are presented with narratives of the nations history and revolution.
for generations, the dominant stories have validate a view that overly central eyes the experiences, lives and issues of privileged white male americans and silences the voice of anothers. >> when did you reach that conclusion? i am a child of the 1960's. meaning that i was done. i was born in 1963. i was relatively young when the real spark of activist around civil trites band power issue was old enough to be engaged. in detroit which had several rye
yolts in 1967, 1968. many in 34i neighborhood, it was impossible not to be affected. this meant by the time i was 14, 15, i was active in community groups and organizations. part of the way the city responded to these riots was to attempt to get these into a more socially active endeavor. i was probably rescued around these different issues. that's where my own ideas about social justice and beginning to look at american history and politics in particular kind of ways evolved. >> there were 43 killed in that
july of 1967. do you remember it? >> i do. the 1967 riot in part began i few blocks. we had spent all day in canada. when we got back, there was a full-blown riot going on. it was a very hot evening. i was probably about 12 or so then. nobody was inside. at one point, my mother and sister and i walked down a couple of blocks to this main intersection where there were hundreds of people. after being there for a while, a car drove up and two white men got out and fired at the corner.
they lifted a shot gun and fired. everyone on the corner -- i would say it was about 20 people. everyone was hit september for me. my mother was shot. my sister was shot. some injuries were more serious than others but people were bleeding and there was panic. i ran and got my father. we got the car and came back and loaded up the four or five people we could get in the car including my mother and sister and took people to the hospital. fortunately, the injuries to my mother and sister were not very, very serious. my mother was in the hospital a few days. my sister overnight. that was my experience. impossible for me not to be very
conscious about something is going on in society. i can't say. it made me an activist and made me reflective. it made me try to seek answers to why raceism, poverty existed. it was in a period where these were the kinds of issues in church and school and the community center i used to go to. all around me there were discusses going on. what was that race riot all about? >> the immediate spark of it,
similar to riots we have seen in london were the very relationship between the police and the black community. there was a long riftry of -- long history of the police force and an all black community. did you know any of the 43 that were killed? >> no, i didn't >> nobody died. >> did they ever find out who the two men were? >> notify -- no. no. not at all.
it was chaos. they investigated the homicides that hammed. i'm not sure how many they ever fileded. nothing was ever followed up on that. >> you said you went to wayne state. what kind of family did you grow up in? >> mother and father was both working class. my weather kent as far as the fifth grade. my father, the eighth grade. my mother always planned to us inishi inishing. they came up to detroit where there were factories and jobs, she met my father. both working class but my mother was very much, you have to good to school, you have to finish.
don't get in trouble. >> how many in the family. two sisters. one older. one younger. our neighborhood was lower working class. not the worst but far, far from being the best. i think probably because my mother was just so determined it kept me from engaging in activities that probably where not going to be good. some which i engaged in any way and she never found out about. she was really very education focussed. when i graduated from junior high school, i ended up going to to a place that was rated very
high in the koifrnt. it was her determined effort to make sure we did our homework. she went to school and talked to our teachers. she valued education. what was the actual work your parents did? >> my father worked at a factory for a while. some periods he would return illegal activity. he would return after hour joints. people would come and buy drinks and gamble. those kind of activities. my mother worked in the laundry for about 25 years. are they alive? >> no. they both have passed. >> i want to read two paragraphs and contrast these two that you
have in this book the first one is a quote from pat boo cannon. well, i think white men were 100% of the people that wrote the constitution. 100% of the people that signed the declaration of the people. the people who died at normandie. this country has been built by white folks. why did you put that in the book? >> this is an a bold way. for many people around the country, that probably is a common view. i would argue some of what wir getting p am $ -- the were the
terms. the resistance to obama. to country what many have felt has been a history of whites. that the browning of the country. people coming from asia, africa and the caribbean is a cultura rup tur. the history of the country has always been one of multiple people from around the world. david walter was an advocate in the 1830's. freed black man who wrote a pamphlet, which called.
we were in school. he condemned slavery in the harshest terms and wrote a pamphlet. it was distributed in the south. it become illegal to have a copy. >> let me read this. you quote this, the 76-page familiar flet called for nothing short of full liberation of african-americans. the pamphlet also spoke against colonization. america is more our country than it is whites. the greatest riches in all american have written from you are blood and tiers will they
>> saying slavery could exist anywhere in the country, which upset what had been this delicate balance going back to the 1820's of bringing in one slave state with one free state to try to dampen down tensions but the tensions were still going. the dread scott decisions which was he and his wife were two individuals who spent time in a free state and argue that they should be free.
this was a famous quote that blacks have no rights that whites are bound to respect. that's just kind of the history they encountered. >> we don't have a whole lot of time. mary lincoln also got into financial trouble and elizabeth wasn't a slave but was a friend, ended up helping her. elizabeth was an independent business woman. her business was making dresses. she left missouri and came washington, d.c. she ended up combmibeing the dr maker for mary lincoln and also
her friend. elizabeth spent a lot of time at the white house out of her work and closeness to mary who was actually alienated from many of the people in washington, d.c. just out of her personality and her background. elizabeth also got to know abe ham lincoln. she had a number of discussions with them over the years. after lincoln was killed, mary left washington, d.c. but she was in debt. she was in debt during lincoln's president den shi and he did not know morerles the amount. they came up with a plan to secretly sell her dresses in new york city. the plan doesn't go that well. there's not a great market for her dresses. it helps some but not totally.
>> before we run out of time, sunday august 28, the 48th anniversary of the "i have a dream speech, what does it mean? >> it means there's another step forward in the country reconciling its history. i say that because stat us are important symbols of recognition. what this says is that we are at a point where we are going to recognition contributions of mart martin luther king who gave his life to making sure the country
lived up to its stated ideas this was to include poor people, black people, poor whites. people across the board who have been excluded. too often, the foe ten of martin luther focuses on the efforts to stop de11ing gags but he had a broader spectrum. people who he felt was not ge being included. so this gives another opportunity for his ideas to be discussed. and to be lived. >> how long has this book been out? >> since december 2010. the black history of the white house. what's the most surprising or interesting thing that a white person who read this book has
said to you? >> i think they were -- i've given many, many talks. one was a talk i gave at the white house. i was very surprised at how emotional is was. there were a lot of young black people working at the white house, a lot of whites who had no idea of this history and that obama is another stage in this history. as i went through the presentation an talked about the different individuals, people felt emotionally attached. that was surprising to me. in terms of what people have come up to me and said, it's mostly been in the vein of, i had no idea. i had no idea whatsoever. >> did you have an idea? >> i did not. i will be very honest.
i spent many years writing about black policy. i would say 80% of this book was new to me. i had not heard of 80% of these individuals. i went back and looked at some of the things i had wrote before. before we run out of time. when did you get married? >> december 2007. how many children do you have? >> his or her name? >> his name is ellington. >> where did you meet your wife? >> here in washington, d.c. my wife and i met at a jazz concert. we thoult that would be important. but duke ellington is such a positive symbol. we wanted to honor him.