The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House


Product Details

Lyons Press
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.1 X 0.9 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Jesse J. Holland is the author of Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C. (Globe Pequot, 2007) and a longtime Washington correspondent for The Associated Press, the world's largest news organization. Since moving to Washington, D.C. in 2000, Holland has covered the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court for The AP. A regular guest on CNN, NBC, Fox News, PBS, C-SPAN's Washington Journal and ABC's News Now, Holland speaks frequently on African American and Washington political topics. Holland is a member of the National Press Club, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Capital Press Club, the Washington Association of Black Journalists, and the Society of Professional Journalists. Holland is a sought after-speaker on African American history and politics, having lectured at universities and institutions like Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. Holland lives in Bowie, Maryland, with his wife and children.


'Jesse J. Holland's riveting book The Invisibles shines a long overdue light on the enslaved men and women who were forced to serve in the nation's seat of executive power--The White House. Not only does Holland reveal this ugly chapter of American history with sharp analysis and insight, he reveals the blatant hypocrisy of the nation's presidents and other leaders in permitting such a system of forcible servitude to exist. More importantly, he brings to life the stories and experiences of this group of nearly forgotten African Americans, who showed remarkable courage and resilient character despite being imprisoned by slavery in the heart of the so-called 'land of the free.''--J.D. Dickey, author of Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC
"Oney Judge, who dared to flee to freedom from George Washington's household. Edith Hern Fossett, a chef trained to prepare French delicacies for Thomas Jefferson. Andrew Jackson's wily jockeys. Jesse J. Holland makes visible the courage, expertise and fortitude of the slaves held by U.S. presidents. Holland's contribution to a complete history of our complex nation is one worth savoring." --Donna Bryson, author of It's A Black White Thing
"Jesse Holland's The Invisibles uncovers White House secrets certain Presidents surely would have kept buried. Those Presidents who owned human beings and those who rejected slavery will come as a surprise. The Invisibles is a revealing journey for all readers. This is American history told well." --Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, author of The U.S. Constitution: An African-American Context and Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present
"If you want to know the real history of the White House or the U.S. presidency, you must read Jesse Holland's The Invisibles. He not only writes in crisp and engaging prose, but Holland has done the extensive research necessary to bring to life the slaves who toiled in anonymity for the nation's early presidents, sharing quarters in the executive mansion with some of the most powerful men in the world. From William Lee, George Washington's manservant, to the hundreds of nameless slaves who labored for another 11 U.S. presidents, Holland tells their complicated and engaging tales, providing critical heretofore largely overlooked context to events that we learned about in grade school." --Del Quentin Wilber, author of Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan
Ten of the first 12 United States presidents were slave masters. In this brisk history, Holland (Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C., 2007), Washington correspondent for the Associated Press, examines the tangled relationships between slaves and the presidents they served, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant, and exposes the convoluted laws enacted to impede slaves' quests for freedom. Of the first 12 presidents, only John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, fierce opponents of slavery, did not own slaves, thereby incurring heavy costs for domestic help to maintain the White House. Although some slaves' lives have been lost to history, Holland creates a vivid portrait of many, including William Lee, who worked as Washington's 'body servant, ' and Oney Judge, born at Mount Vernon, who was Martha Washington's favorite. They were among some 150 slaves that Washington amassed by the time of the Revolution, many bought by his wife. Martha cherished Oney, and she was devastated when the woman fled from servitude. Tracked down, Oney was told that the Washingtons would free her when she returned to them--but she didn't believe the offer. 'I am free now and choose to remain so, ' she replied.' Holland reprises Jefferson's connection to the Hemings family, whose descendants claimed that he fathered Sally Hemings' children, and he reveals that even presidents who spoke against slavery kept slaves to run their farms and work on their land. James Madison, convinced that slaves should not be freed into white America, founded the American Colonization Society, 'dedicated to freeing slaves and transporting them to the west coast of Africa.' James Monroe, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson also endorsed that idea. Several thousand freed slaves were sent to Liberia from 1820 to 1840; in honor of Monroe, the capital was renamed Monrovia. A quick, informative history of a lamentable chapter in America's past.--Kirkus
Holland's account of slaves who built and sustained the White House answers many hard historical issues, and it reveals how little tribute has been given for the contributions of enslaved persons to the normal functioning of early American institutions.--Publishers Weekly
"Holland's book shows how the personal became political, as presidents arguing for American liberty remained entangled by slavery in their private lives and public service. This is a useful first step toward a larger study of slavery and the presidency that we sorely need if we are ever to understand the hold slavery had on the republic."--Library Journal