Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama Reminds America About Its Greatness: "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves"

The first night of the Democratic convention took place Monday, July 25, 2016, with a line-up of Democrats that included Corey Booker, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and First Lady Michelle Obama.  Michelle gave a moving speech about her perspective as a mother of two girls growing up in America, and she did not hesitate to make an important historical observation to underscore how far America has come as a nation when she said:
"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.  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."

Apparently the fact that the White House was constructed by slaves is news to some people, so the fact checking organizations had to issue a report recently to set the record straight.  Per PolitiFact:

We have previously checked whether the building at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the U.S. Capitol, was built by slaves. We rated it True.
Here, we’ll take a look at whether the first lady was correct that the White House "was built by slaves."
The White House Historical Association -- a private preservation and educational group for the presidential residence complex -- has a web page devoted to the question, "Did slaves build the White House?"
It reads in part: "Construction on the president's house began in 1792 in Washington, D.C., a new capital situated in a sparsely settled region far from a major population center. The decision to place the capital on land ceded by two slave states -- Virginia and Maryland -- ultimately influenced the acquisition of laborers to construct its public buildings.
"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. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African American(s) — enslaved and free — to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings."
A stonemason, Collen Williamson, "trained enslaved people on the spot at the government's quarry at Aquia, Va.," the group wrote. "Enslaved people quarried and cut the rough stone that was later dressed and laid by Scottish masons to erect the walls of the president's house. The slaves joined a workforce that included local white laborers and artisans from Maryland and Virginia, as well as immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and other European nations."
These payroll records show that the government did not own slaves, but that it did hire them. Slave carpenters Ben, Daniel, and Peter were noted as being owned by James Hoban. (National Archives and Records Administration/White House Historical Association)
Obama said the White House "was built by slaves." Strictly speaking, the White House was not exclusively built by slaves; it was built by a combination of slaves, free blacks and whites. But slaves were significantly involved in the construction of the White House, so we have no quarrel with the way Obama worded her claim. We rate it True. 

So there you have it.   

A lot gets lost in these political elections on both sides, but every now and then, regardless of your political ideology, it is notable to observe how far America has come as a nation.  It still has a long way to go to be sure, but to go from 3/5ths of a person to President of the United States is not something that should be forgotten.
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