tv QA CSPAN February 7, 2016 11:00pm-12:01am EST
debt. announcer: next, q&a with reporter jesse holland, then british prime minister david cameron takes questions from the house of commons. campaignald trump at a rally in holderness, new hampshire. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," associated press reporter jesse holland. mr. holland talks about his book, "the invisibles: the untold story of african american slaves in the white house". brian: jesse holland, you write in your brand-new book, i decided i would write a second book in 2008 while writing on the then senator barack obama presidential campaign. as he made a weekend stop over in his hometown of chicago, illinois.
why did you lead your forward with that? jesse: part of the reason why i got into writing about african-american history in washington, d.c. was because of barack obama and his campaign. there was a lot of interest in african american history, having the first african-american president in the white house. i was lucky enough to be assigned by the associated press to cover obama that weekend. i remember pulling up to the obamas' townhouse in chicago thinking about what book will i write next. and right at that spot is when it hit me. i got so excited about the topic and so i immediately called my editor.
she immediately tamped down my enthusiasm and told me to think about it. to make sure that i had a really good idea about what i wanted to do. brian: what was the idea? jesse: the idea was to write a story about the african-american slaves who lived inside the white house. back then, the country was still talking about how great and how unique it would be if an african-american president lived inside the white house. i said to myself, i understand that would be great but he cannot have been the first african-american to live there. and then the thought process went on -- so who were the first african-americans to live there? we knew there were african-american butlers but i thought there had to be someone
before them. i decided to write a book about the african-american slaves that lived inside the white house with the first presidents and that is when "the invisibles: the untold story of african american slaves in the white house" got its start. brian: we have an artist rendering of the first presidents house in new york city. you say in your book that there were nine slaves working for george washington inside that building. explain how that happens. jesse: as most people know, george washington did not live inside the white house. he lived inside executive residences in new york city and philadelphia. when this country first started, congress did not provide funds for butlers and maids and watch -- washer women. it did not provide funds for domestic staff inside the white house. the president's either had to come out of their own pocket and pay for these staffers or they had to bring in their slaves from their plantations. the majority of the first presidents and the founding fathers who became president were all slave owners. they would bring in their slaves from the plantations. washington did this as
well. he brought slaves to new york city and philadelphia from mount vernon. he brought them to new york city and philadelphia. in both of those places, today we would consider them to be non-slaveholding states but back then, slavery was allowed in both pennsylvania and new york city. george washington took advantage of that to bring slaves from mount vernon up to new york. brian: you tell a story about the machinations they went through to keep the slaves in the president's house. jesse: when of the rules in pennsylvania at that time was that any slaveowner who brought a slave across the state lines and into pennsylvania and kept them there in six months, after six months had passed, those slaves automatically became free. george washington is no dummy. he does not want to keep bringing people from out vernon to philadelphia, have them for six months and then have them walk away with compensation. what washington did was every five months and a couple of weeks, he would decide to take his household fact to mount vernon.
and then, they would turn around and go back to pennsylvania starting the six-month clock all over again. he did this over and over during his time in pennsylvania to ensure that the slaves would not be freed. none of his slaves were dummies. they knew what he was doing at this point. that is why one of his slaves
took this opportunity to actually escape from george washington. her name was oney judge. she was martha washington's personal slave. she had been with the washingtons her entire life. she was born into slavery with the washingtons. and she had been with them her entire life. as the president's term was winding down, oney judge saw that if she ever stepped back onto mount vernon she would never escape. while the washington were packing up and getting ready to go back to mount vernon, oney judge was packing her own things. one day, as a washingtons were eating dinner, she walked out the back door. she walked down to the wharf and sailed away. it took a couple of days for the washingtons to realize you not been packing to go back to virginia, she was packing to escape. but she actually made it up to the northeast where she would live out the rest of her life without ever having to go back to virginia. it is not that the washingtons did not want her back. george washington actually put advertisements in newspapers trying to get people to find oney judge. he sent a couple of relatives, i won't call them slave catchers. he sent them to the area where he thought she had escaped to to see if they could find her. one of them found her.
however, by that point, oney judge was enough apart part of that community where the community decided that they would warn her in advance and let her get away before the slave catchers showed up. she got to live the rest of her life out as a free woman. brian: how much was a slave worth in the george washington era? jesse: it depends on who the sleep was. most slaves were bought as children. if you were going out to buy a
slave come at you had a choice. you could buy a slave as a child or by a fully grown slave or something in between. the money amount would depend on what exactly you want. for most house slaves who served as maids or valets, you would likely buy a younger one so you could train them. william lee was bought as a young child specifically to serve as a valet for george washington. in today's money, it would be about five dollars. if fully grown slave, they could go for much, much more. someone who is a cook, like the hemmings family with thomas jefferson. if someone was buying a fully grown slave who was trained in french cuisine, they would be much more. for a lot of the presidents, they either inherited their slaves or they bought them as children to work inside the white house. that way they knew what the slave was taught to do because they taught the slaves themselves. brian: what kind of contract was there? jesse: it depends on where you bought them from. a lot of slaves in the presidential households, they ended up being the sons and daughters of previous slaves. a lot of the slaves that were used inside the white house were not bought, they had grown up on their plantations. when they did go out and buy slaves, the contracts would
typically say -- slave x is being purchased by slaveowner a from slaveowner b. as we went through the records, and i had a lot of help going through the archives, when we went back and looked through some of the records, there were very few presidents who actually bought slaves while inside the white house.
andrew jackson actually was one of the few who did and john tyler did as well. andrew jackson did it openly. he needed some extra help inside the white house to help the household run correctly so he bought gracie bradley. here in washington, d.c. interestingly, gracie's sister actually worked inside the white house as well but as a free woman. she wanted her sister to work in the white house as well and she recommended to andrew jackson that he go purchase her and he did. gracie bradley turned out to be -- he bought her is like a cook, but it turns out that gracie bradley and sub the the best that gracie- bradley ends up being the best seamstress that anyone had seen
in that area and she became the master seamstress in the hermitage in tennessee. she ended up living out her whole life with the jackson family because her sister wanted her closer to her in the white house. other presidents, like john tyler did not want people to know that they were buying slaves. when you get to tyler, you are getting closer and closer to the civil war. they did not want people to know what they were doing. tyler would go out and hire a middleman who would go out and buy slaves and then transfer the slaves to tyler. tyler was so adamant that no one would know what he was doing, but he refused to use any of the money that he was being paid as president to buy those slaves. he did it out of his personal funds. presidents have had all different types of ways to get slaves into their hands. some wanted people to know that they were doing it and some did not.
brian: they all had different ways. a lot of stories in the book, george w the white house with the obamas with the unveiling of his portrait and see what that triggers in your research. [video clip] president bush: when the british burned the white house in 1814, dolly madison famously saved this portrait of the first george w. now, michelle -- if anything happens, there is your man. mrs. obama: i promise you -- i promise. i am going straight for it. and i am sure it will be closer, and i will get right to it. brian: what are you thinking? jesse: one of the great stories is that dolly madison comes and
saves the portrait of george washington. i don't think that is exactly what happened because one of the great things i found out, was paul jennings. paul jennings was one of the first slaves, he was one of the first people to write a tell-all memoir about the white house. dolly madison and her story about her saving that portrait of george washington in the white house when the british came to burn it -- he said that is not exactly what happened even though it was a great story that dolly madison told. but it was not exactly what happened. according to mr. jennings, dolly madison did not have anything to do with saving that painting. he and a couple of other workers inside the white house were the ones that came and pulled that
painting off the wall, put it in a wagon and shipped it away. there are some people who would argue that given his relationship with the madison and i will say that his relationship with them was not the best because they broke several promises to him. but a lot of people say that his account of what happened with that painting is probably more trustworthy than dolly madison's account. i tend to believe mr. jennings, because, you know, he actually wrote his down and put it in his book. like i said, it was one of the first memoirs written about white house lights and probably one of the first books written by a slave that got published
inside the united states. brian: you can read it online. jesse: you can read it anywhere. it is a great look. i tend to believe him but i will say he had a reason to hold a grudge against the madison because james madison had told him before he died that he was going to be freed. after james madison died, he goes over to dolly madison's hands and at this point, dolly madison is running out of money. she is destitute. instead of following her husband's wishes to free his slaves after he died, she starts selling them. one of the few she kept there at the end was paul jennings. he expected her to follow president madison's wishes and free him but she never did. i will say that he did have a reason to hold a grudge against her but i still tend to think his story is true.
now, luckily for him, he ends up being sold to daniel webster. who eventually frees him. for him, the story ends up ok in the end. but, he was no fan of the modest -- madison's, and especially dolly madison. i can see he probably got a little bit of pleasure in poking a hole in the story that she was becoming more famous for. brian: i want to put on the screen a list of presidents who had slaves at any time. 12 out of 18 had slaves at some point in their lives. while they were in office. george washington, thomas munroe, andrew jackson. john tyler, james polk, and zachary taylor. those that owned slaves but not while they were in the white house included mark been pure in, andrew johnson, and ulysses grant.
who had the most slaves? jesse: washington, jefferson, and maybe taylor had the most. keep in mind, both monticello and mount vernon were huge moneymaking plantations. i would tend to bet, and both washington and jefferson had in the hundreds at some point in their lives. i would tend to guess that one two would be the largest slave owners. it is hard to count at any one point because keep in mind, that when you are owning a slave family, the slaves are also having children. those numbers would fluctuate up and down. still, even with that, i would expect it would be either washington or jefferson. brian: you tell stories about slaves, not a service of presidents that literally slept in the room with them. can you remember one in particular? jesse: go back to william lee who was the body servant of george washington. everywhere that george
washington went, you would find billy lee. it is probably safe to say, the beyond phyllis wheatley at that time, billy lee was probably the most famous african-american in all of america. you did not find george washington during the revolutionary war without billy lee. when general cornwallis surrendered, washington and lee were there together. during the revolutionary war, billy lee's job was to make sure that george washington had everything he needed. whether it was a horse, a telescope, a gun, to run messages. billy lee was basically washington's number two. one story i found especially interesting, a group of southerners and a group of
northerners looking ahead to the civil war years in advance got into an argument in a revolutionary war camp. billy lee and washington hear about this argument which is about to break out into a fight. and washington grabs his horse that billy lee brings him and he gallops into the middle of the argument. right there behind him is billy lee on his horse. even when all of these battles are going on and george washington is out there, billy lee is right there next to him. if something happened to washington's horse, billy lee would have to give him his horse and follow along on his feet. when washington woke up in the morning, billy lee was there. when he went to bed at night, it was his job to take off the wig and the clothing. make sure that washington had the food he needed and the bible.
it was his job, he was basically washington's number two, to make ,ure that everything around him washington did not have to think about it. washington up with was a chart. it's not like it was easy. as we go on in history, we find people like washington's grandson, who ends up being a relative of robert lee. he ends up saying that billy lee was probably the second best horseman in the country behind george washington simply because he had to be to keep up with him. when you start talking about body servants, these were the men who were entrusted with the day-to-day care and keeping of the president. they got their clothing.
they got their wigs. they made sure that they got to bed at night. they made sure they got up in the morning. most of them lived in the same room with the president. brian: you were telling a story in front of one of our cameras back in 2010. years ago on a book you wrote called "black men built the the capital." i want you to see this. [video clip] jesse: once the lee's had left arlington house, the union forces crossed the potomac and took over the land. one union general decided he never wanted robert e lee to ever return to arlington house. the way he ensured that this would not happen was he began burying union and confederate soldiers in robert e lee's front yard. that is how arlington national cemetery got started.
another way they tried to ensure that general lee would never return was that they gave part of the plantation to some of his freed slaves. what these freed slaves did with the land was come up with a town called freeman village. as you can see, it was not exactly small. they had their own churches. they had their own schools. they even had their own hospital. we have even been able to find a photograph of the people of freeman village in the national archives. brian: that is where the cemetery took over freeman village. brian: the cemetery is freeman village. what happened to all of the free blacks? jesse: eventually, even though freeman village was the city
unto itself, it brought in people from all around. even sojourner truth ended up living there for awhile. eventually, the view they had from that hill, people discovered it and they were kicked off of the land and it became part of -- it was returned to the custis' state and it became arlington national cemetery. so now, where friedman's village stood before is part of arlington national cemetery. there is no trace of the city left. one of the things i have discovered since i gave that talk, one of the churches that
was in freedman's village called the old bell church -- i was out doing a talk and a woman came up to me at the end and said that her church had that bell. it moved from freedman's village to alexandria county. some of the people who lived in freeman village moved across the potomac and down and now they are still in those areas. i run into them now and again when i am giving talks about washington history. someone will say that my great great grandfather and lived in
in freedmans village. the people and their descendents are still here but there is no trace of the city left. brian: you tell us in the book that you started inking about this in 2008. you showed an early draft to your father and he proclaimed this to be a good book. is dad still alive? jesse: yes he is. i am originally from a small town called holly springs. my parents were both educators. retired educators now. my mother taught english. my dad taught science and industrial arts in the memphis city school system. where i grew up in my early years, i grew up in memphis and back toparents moved mississippi, where we still live on the same land that our great great great grandfather got after the civil war. a cotton farm. my family is still there. being the oldest son, you're are still expected to go into the family business but that would never happen with me. i always knew i wanted to be a writer. my parents really encouraged me to follow my dreams and to write.
but, my dad is a farmer. when he stopped teaching full-time, he went into firming full-time. he reads but i would not call him a voracious reader. when he reads something and says it is good it is high praise. that is probably one of the greatest compliments i have had in my entire life. that my father read the early draft and said it was good. brian: how far back at you gone in the genealogy of your own family? jesse: i got started when my daughter was born in 2006. i have a nine-year-old daughter rita and a son, jesse holland the third. i always wanted them to know who their family was. we live in washington, in blue -- in maryland.
most of my family is still in mississippi. i want them to know who their people are. i started tracing our family history and started talking to older relatives to find out who our people are. we have gone back to just before the civil war where the holland's first bought an acre of land in mississippi. my great, great, great grandfather who was also named jesse holland bought an acre of land and built a store. outside of hudsonville, mississippi. myt acre of land is still in emily. -- my family. that is the one acre we will never sell. that is where we started. we will always keep that acre of land. my parents are both from the north mississippi area. they met in high school. my roots are there in
mississippi and i always make sure that i can go back. i go back as often as i can. brian: ole miss. jesse: i stayed an extra year because i became editor of the daily mississippian -- the campus newspaper from 1993-1994. i always knew, from high school that i was going to do some type of writing, but it was in college i decided that i would be a journalist. i have been with ap since 1994. since i left ole miss. i started as an intern in columbia, south carolina. i stayed there for a few years and then went up to albany, new york, to help cover hillary clinton's first senate campaign
and then came to washington, d.c., in 2000. brian: back to the book. jesse: the horses at the white house. oh, yes. there is a great book and this, maybe somebody has already written it. andrew jackson, american war hero, also, a big gambling man. he loved the horses. he brought -- i've feel pretty safe in saying that he brought the only franchise to the white house. he imported some of his thoroughbreds from tennessee and brought them up to washington, d.c., and kept them at the white house. he was also a politician. he made sure that the horses were always run under someone else's name. but, they belonged to him.
and andrew jackson ran horses at racetracks around the d.c. area while still president. he was a stable owner, he was almost like dan snyder where he was the major sporting franchise owner in washington, d.c. if you wanted to run a horse, more than likely andrew jackson's horse was in the race. he was known as one of the most powerful racing owners of that time. he ran racing in tennessee and when he became president, he comes up to washington and he brings some of those horses with them and he builds a new stable on the white house grounds to keep his horses. we also suspect he brought some of the black jockeys he kept as slaves in tennessee up to washington tuesday in the stable with the horses. we have not been able to identify many of these men but we do know that at least one of them, his name is jesse.
there was a great story where jackson is running a horse out in the prince george's county area. his vice president, martin van buren, he is actually -- he was not quite the sporting man that jackson was. jackson is trying to get one of the forces under control. he has a high-spirited horse and the jockey is not controlling him the way that jackson wants him to. jackson moves towards the track. van buren, not knowing what is going on is also moving towards the track. jackson and the jockey get the horse under control and jackson backs up. van buren does not. you have a man sitting on a horse in front of the starting gates.
jackson gets martin van buren and moves him back and that one thing follows jackson for the rest of his life. that jackson has to pull him out of the way of the horses like he is a child. cementing him in some people's mind as jackson's puppet which follows him for the rest of his career. brian: you write about george the slave. jesse: monkey simon was the greatest black jockey of his time. he is a jockey. you have to be small. he was the one jockey along with the horse maria that jackson
could not beat. he tried over and over. he sent different horses out there. and he never could beat him. monkey simon publicly got into trash talking with andrew jackson and got away with it. keep in mind andrew jackson was a man known for his temper. he would duel, he would fight. he was a rough and ready kind of guy. but because of his victories over jackson over and over, monkey simon would publicly tease ahead. he would talk about how jackson looked and he even wrote and if there is singsong about jackson that he would think.
-- would sing. but because of his skill, jackson never retaliated. even going toward the end of his life, one of the things that jackson would say, one thing he regretted was that he never got to be monkey simon and maria. which was the horse. he never got to be them. we do discover later on that he and simon become friends. i don't know if he ends up owning simon, we don't know if he owned simon or if he rented him but we know they had relations later on and the two ended up talking once or twice. he is probably one of the only living people that said something bad to jackson's face. brian: another slave involved with the horses. ephraim complained that he had been attacked by a white man.
jesse: andrew jackson had slaves up in the hundreds. when we look at it now, it is weird. he actually owned people. but, he had affection for the people he owned. he was not a slave owner known for mistreating his slaves and he would stand up for them when someone else attacked them. brian: let me read -- this man is talking about jackson. jackson went to tennessee, beat up the man.
jesse: jackson stood up for his people. this wasn't the only time. you know that if you messed with anyone that jackson liked, that jackson would come for you. that included political allies and it went all the way to his slaves. he called them his servants but they were his slaves. if you got anywhere close to mistreating someone that belonged to jackson you had to deal with jackson. one of his slaves was charged with murder because of a christmas party fight. there was some alcohol involved different from two
fight.ions got into a someone dies. some of jackson's political enemies in tennessee decided they would charge jackson's sleep with murder. most of the time, you would expect something like that to happen and the slave owner would try to negotiate or try to get this to go away. you would not expect what jackson did. first of all, i am a lawyer and you need to prove to me this case. if you don't, you will make this go away because you are not going to use my slaves to attack me for political reasons. jackson himself took over that case and made sure that his people were not treated unfairly. they ended up getting off because it was a general melee. it wasn't one person attacking the other. jackson ends up getting his slaves, getting the charges dropped against his slaves.
he went above and beyond what you would expect a slave owner to do. brian: let us go through a bunch of stories quickly. william andrew johnson. he was a slave of andrew johnson. where did he get his name? jesse: from the person he was working for. this is one of those areas where we have to be careful because we don't know for a fact. we don't know the genealogy as well as we should. we know he worked for andrew johnson. we know he lived with him. we don't know if he was related to him. it has never been proven one way or the other. he was there with andrew johnson him and his entire life. the johnsons were also from tennessee. we could see from some of the information we could find, he came up to washington with the johnsons.
and went back to tennessee with them after he left the white house. he is one of the few slaves that we know that was actually honored by a u.s. president. after johnson died and later in his life, he actually come up andrew johnson came back to washington and got a tour of the white house and got a silver tipped cane as a gift from president roosevelt that he took home with him. we know for sure -- we know pretty well that he is probably the only slave that has actually been honored by a u.s. president. brian: you say james buchanan, near the civil war time, freed a few slaves were political
reason. jesse: once we get close to the civil war, that the press and the public, especially up north are getting a lot more squeamish about slaveholders and presidents who are slaveholders. buchanan decided since he owned slaves, he decided that he needed to get some of his slaves out of his name. he decided -- he transfers some of them to his sister who eventually freed them. when we get to buchanan, we are finding out that the presidents are being more careful about publicly being slave owners and they start divesting themselves of any public holdings of slavery. brian: it surprises a lot of people that grant owned slaves. jesse: it surprised me as well. you would not think that the man put in charge of the u.s. army
during this double or would actually label owner himself. but he was. he inherited his slaves through marriage. he did not go out and buy slaves. he married a woman whose family owned slaves. one of the things he did himself was that he personally freed that slave. there is a copy of the letter he wrote which gave the slave his freedom which it shows where he was in his mind about slavery. that does not mean that he wasn't a slave owner, he was because of marriage. brian: james monroe is the first to suggest the elimination of slavery. a lot of presidents said they were going to eliminate slavery that not until they died or their wives were they ever freed. jesse: one of the things that i saw throughout this entire timeline was that most of the
founding fathers and early president knew in their minds that slavery was wrong. they knew it. but, they were not willing to inconvenience their own lives to make that come true. but a lot of them did was to say that when i die, my slaves will be free or when my wife dies, the slaves would become free. they did not do it during their lifetime because they knew, it is clear that most of them knew it was wrong. they did not want to perpetuate it to another generation. some did. keep in mind, they also, while trying to be kind, put their wives in a bad situation. the president dies first and you tell all of the slaves that you
will be free once my wife dies. the president is gone and the only thing standing between freedom is that woman. this is the one you are cleaning for and cooking for, a simple accident gives them freedom. a lot of first ladies after finding out the situation they were in, started moving toward making the slaves free more quickly than letting them wait until they died. brian: the story of john tyler, his fiancee, she was about 24 years old on the ship princeton, secretary of the navy and secretary of state died. her father died. a slave named armistead. jesse: the princeton was supposed to be one of the navy's
crowning achievements. it had two of the biggest cannons made at that time. to show off this ship, they are sailing it up and down the potomac and they are inviting members of congress and the president and the people aboard the ship to let them see this great creation of the u.s. armed forces. they are coming back down the potomac and they get near mount vernon. tyler is aboard the ship. his slave armistead is aboard the ship as well. they are going past mount vernon. they decide that to honor the nation's first president, they are going to fire the canon. tyler is below deck. a song is being sung that tyler wants to hear.
they tell people that they are going to fire the canon and tyler wants to hear this song. armistead decides to go upstairs to see them fire the canon. unfortunately, the firing of the canon becomes a misfire and the canon actually explodes on board. tyler is spared because he is below deck. the people around the canon, most of them are immediately killed. the canon exploded. shrapnel is being shot across the upper decks. as you said, several members of the administration are killed during this accident. including armistead, the personal servant. brian: when they went back to the white house, tell that
story. jesse: this is an example of how they treated slaves during that time. the people are taken off of the boat. they are put in these beautiful hearses with caskets with cherry tops. armistead gets a pine box. and you see the pine box veers off in another direction. he is sent home to his family in a pine box. everyone else who died was honored. without fanfare. that is an example of how little the slaves were regarded coming even if you worked for the most powerful man in the united states. brian: you seem to be a positive person.
a smile on your face. i want to show you a guy, that we have had here a couple of times who was so angry about what happened in this country. he talked about something that you wrote about. this is randall robinson. he has moved to st. kitts because of the anger he has over the way blacks were treated in this country. [video clip] >> you walk into the capital and you see all of this stuff describing the stages of america. no douglas. no tubman. who cast the statue of freedom? slaves did. brian: how angry has this made you?
jesse: there were times when i had to sit back and realize i had to tell the story. that is the important part. that these stories are now being told. anyone who does not know their history is doomed to repeat it. by getting these slaves' names out into the public eye and having people read these stories, it is reclaiming a little bit of that respect we were talking about. armistead was sent off in a pine box. no one cared about his name but maybe by writing the stories down and talking about them, we get a little bit of respect back for those men and women that were denied that during their lives. brian: how much of the white house was built by slaves?
jesse: the construction crew was primarily slaves. back then, washington was basically a swamp. there was no workforce here. the only major workforce in the washington area, from the plantations in virginia and maryland. they went out and rented slaves. james hogan, a slave owner from south carolina brought up some of his slaves to help build the white house. there is no way to sugarcoat it. this is how washington was built. before the civil war. the slaves were easily accessible. they were cheap labor. unlike freed men, the slaves could not complain about their
working conditions and they also were not getting money for their work. the slave owners did. they could not go anywhere because they could not afford to. when you look at the white house and the capital, a lot of the work was done, not all of it, that a lot of the manual labor that was done, a good portion of it was done by slaves. part of the reason for writing books like this is to make sure that these stories get told. a lot of times when we talk about history in washington, d.c. we talk about the founding fathers, the great politicians, the great city leaders but we don't talk about the people who make the city work. the first group of people who made this city work were slaves. a lot of us do not know their names. by writing a book like this, we begin to take back some of that
dignity that was taking away from these slaves i people actually knowing who they were. brian: 10 of the first 12 presidents had slaves. those that did not, john adams and john quincy adams -- you dropped a nugget. when the white house was first constructed in 1800 there was no bathroom. jesse: the white house was not exactly the best place to live when it first opened. both john adams was not very happy to be in washington. he was happy to be president but when he moved into the white house, it was not exactly -- it was finished but not quite done. he could live in it. keep in mind, he did not have the slaves that everyone else had to finish the work on the
white house. his wife called it -- a huge, drafty mansion. he bathed in the potomac. it is not exactly what we see now as the white house. brian: you talk about some kind of structure being built where i think slaves lived, right in the spot where andrew jackson's statue is across from the white house. jesse: when they were constructing the white house, the slaves had to live somewhere. they built shanties over around lafayette park. this was where the workmen lived. there were quite a few other buildings around the white house that are not there now. i would love to see a map where all of these were. there was an ice house. stables.
shanties for slaves to live in while they were working on the white house. there were houses for freed men while they worked on the white house. they were all on the white house campus but they are all gone today. what the white house looks like today and what it looked like back then, that area is completely different. it would be great to see a map. brian: presidents hid the fact that they bought slaves. james polk bought 19 slaves in the white house. jesse: he came in and bought slaves while he was in the white house. he was one of the few people that decided that he did not -- that he needed the extra help while he was here in washington. he had slaves of his own back on the plantation in tennessee and he needed help while he was here in washington. he decided he was going to buy more and bring them and train
them to work inside the white house. brian: what is the story of elias polk. i assume he was named after his master. he was a conservative that wanted to run for office. jesse: he was a faithful slave for james pulled. when he went back to tennessee, he becomes a political figure. he decides he wants to run for office as a conservative. even today, there are not as many conservatives in the african-american community running for office as there are liberals. elias polk was one of the first conservatives that ran for office as an african-american. it was not very popular in tennessee. a lot of people saw him standing on the side of the slaveowners and former slaveowners instead of being with the people.
while he was a big person in politics accident from it does not seem like he was very popular among his own people and the regular people. brian: if you were to give a gold star out to someone who had slaves that lived up to -- let him go and make him free. who would get a gold star? and who would be the worst? jesse: i would have to give andrew jackson a gold star. not because he freed as many slaves as he should have but he actually was willing to put himself on the line for his slaves. he actually made sure that slaves like gracie that he bought here in washington, after he died, gracie and her husband were able to stay on the hermitage and become part of that community.
jackson, time and time again stood up for the slaves who worked for him and the freed men who worked for him. even during the snow riot here in d.c., there was an african-american freed man who worked for jackson in the white house. the mobs came for him. brian: those were after beverly snow. jesse: he owned an eating establishment here in washington, d.c. there was different talk about how that riot started. one discussion was that the riot began because of a drunk slave who took an ax and went after a household and then it snowballed from there. what ended up happening was that a lot of the african-american establishments in washington and
-- end up being destroyed during this riot. a lot of african-americans in washington were killed. one of the people they went after worked for andrew jackson in the white house but jackson said no, you will not taken. brian: we are almost out of time. if you had to put your finger on one source of information that helped you the most in finding the stories, what would that be? jesse: the library of congress. stories like these are always found within the margins. very few of these slaves got to tell their own stories. to find their stories, you have to go back and read the owners' stories. you have to go back and read the information that the owners left behind.
for me, the greatest repository of that information came from the library of congress. i don't want to give short shrift to any of the people that helped me at the presidential plantations. i was surprised at how willing they were to help me find this information. everyone i came across at the presidential plantations , including mount vernon and the hermitage, were all willing to open their records and let me look at them. the majority of my work took place at the library of congress. the best people in the world are library is. they want you there. they will give you whatever help in the world that you need. my mom retired as a librarian. brian: the name of the book is "the invisibles: the untold story of african american slaves in the white house". our guest is ap reporter jesse holland junior. and we thank you very much. jesse: thank you.
♪ >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q-and-a.org. q&a programs are also available as a c-span podcast. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> if you enjoyed this week's q&a interview with jesse holland, here are some other programs you might like. thomas allen harris discusses his film, a look at how african-americans have been portrayed in photos. and stephen on the book, "the caning, the assault that drove america to civil war." you can search the entirety of our library at c-span.org.
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