Obama: We’re the Slaves Who Built the White House and the Economy of the South

Written by Jae Jones

Some people were taken off guard when the first African-American President Barack Obama spoke the words, “We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South,”  at Selma on the 50th anniversary of the historical Bloody Sunday march. But those words he spoke was to drop knowledge on those who had no idea about the foundation where he and his family call home. So, just what did Obama mean slaves built the White House? Well, it’s really basic and anyone who knows their history know that during that time, know slaves did all the hard labor jobs.

African-American slaves were used in the construction of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Out of just about the 600 or so people who worked on the Capitol, maybe about 400 were African-American slaves.

“The area where Barack Obama took his oath of office, right in front of that, there were hundreds of thousands of people sitting in chairs. That area used to be a tent city for slaves and workers.” – Jesse Holland, “ Men Built the Capitol”

According to CNN, a list of construction workers who helped build the White House in 1795 includes five slaves named: Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel. These five slaves were put to work as carpenters. Other slaves worked as masons in the government quarries, cutting the stone for early government buildings, including the White House and U.S. Capitol. According to records kept by the White House Historical Association, slaves often worked seven days a week. Regardless of the temperatures, even in the hot and humid Washington summers they had to work with very few breaks.

All of the Presidents of the era brought their slaves with them, except for Adams. He did not keep slaves. Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant all owned slaves but not during their time in office.

The amazing part is now the White House which hundreds of slaves helped build, houses the first African-American President and his family. Michelle Obama learned of one of learned her great-great grandfathers was a slave who worked on a rice plantation in South Carolina. She says finding that part of her past uncovered both shame and pride and what she calls the tangled history of this country. Although, the first lady’s family came through such a horrific ordeal of history, America has watched Sasha and Malia grow into fine young ladies in the White House.





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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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