As we celebrate President’s Day and Black History Month, its hard to ignore the ugly truth that many of our nation’s leaders were proud slave-owners. Eight of our early leaders (including Mt. Rushmore mainstays George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) owned slaves. Author Elizabeth Dowling Taylor writes for the Huffington Post:
Here it is again, the intersection of Presidents Day and Black History Month. Eight of our early presidents, beginning with George Washington, owned slaves during their tenure in the nation’s highest office. The two I am most familiar with, given my career at the historic sites of Monticello and Montpelier, and as the author of the recently published A Slave in the White House (Palgrave Macmillan, $28.00) are Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Jefferson and Madison owned over a hundred enslaved people at their Virginia plantations and took several slaves with them to the White House. Running the domestic side of the executive mansion was a private undertaking then, and the third and fourth president each assembled a household staff, headed by a French steward, of about ten: white and free black workers, slaves hired in the capital, as well as slaves from their plantation.
Slavery was not a debate. It was a crime being perpetrated on real people in real time.
Ten-year-old Paul Jennings was one of the home slaves selected by President James Madison for the White House household staff. As a footman Jennings set and served meals, assisted the coachman, and ran messages and other errands. Later he became Madison’s personal manservant or valet, and in freedom he authored the first White House memoir.
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