Jesse J. Holland's The Invisibles is the first book to tell the story of the executive mansion's most unexpected residents: the African American slaves who lived with the US presidents who owned them.
Interest in African Americans and the White House are at an all-time high due to the historic presidency of Barack Obama and the soon-to-be-opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture and History. The Invisibles chronicles the African American presence inside the White House from its beginnings in 1782 until 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted slaves their freedom. During these years, slaves were the only African Americans to whom the most powerful men in the United States were exposed on a daily and familiar basis. By hearing about these often-intimate relationships, listeners will better understand some of the views that various presidents held about class and race in American society and how these slaves contributed not only to the lives and comforts of the presidents they served but to America as a whole.
©2016 Jesse J. Holland (P)2016 Tantor
"A quick, informative history of a lamentable chapter in America's past." (Kirkus)
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Each February in honor of the National Black History Month, I read a book by or about African Americans. “The Invisibles” is my choice for 2016. Holland tells the stories of the slaves who worked inside the White House from President Washington until President Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. The slaves worked as cooks, butlers, maids, body servants, doormen and footmen. Holland provides in-depth stories of some slaves, primarily those that had documented history, such as, George Washington’s William Lee, Thomas Jefferson’s Sally Heming and James Madison’s Paul Jennings. President John Adams and President John Q. Adams did not have slaves. I noted an error in the book, Holland stated that the Adams were Quakers; that is incorrect they were Unitarians. Holland also provided an over view of the history of slavery in American including race mixing.
Holland is a journalist who wrote the book “Black Men Built the Capitol”. The book is well research, documented and well written. Holland provides analysis and insight into the period of American slavery. Overall the book provides a look at the White House from the viewpoint of slavery. J. D. Jackson did a good job narrating the book.
The information in this book is useful and I'm glad to have expanded my general understanding of the subject of slavery and the history of the White House
However - it seems disjointed and often out of sequence. If I hadn't known the presidents in order I'd have Ben turned upside down.
Sometimes facts are repeated several times in a section - with exact same wording each time. It seemed at times previously stated facts were forgotten in the narrative. For example, Martha Washington's personal maid ran away because she was about to be given as a wedding present to a harsh mistress - later the maid is asked why she ran away and could give no answer why she'd left such a kind mistress. Eventually she said she wanted to be free. Any of the story may be correct or accurate, but it didn't make much sense listening to it. At the same time, the point is valid and presumably accurate that freedom is one of mankind's most basic needs and desires.
It may be some of my frustrations with the chronology would have been clarified by reading the book itself rather than listening to it.
This is a fascinating, all too short history of the enslaved African-Americans who were the support staff of the great majority of our early presidents.
The great variety of human stories - from the young woman who escaped George Washington's Philadelphia Executive Mansion to P. Jennings who showed charity to his former mistress (Dolly Madison) even though she had broken every promise made to him and his fellow slaves she had made. And the last slave of a US President lived until 1943!
Mr. Jackson had an easy to listen to clear voice and showed flexibility in both expressing the author's and the quoted slaves emotions and ideas while keeping the listener's interest.
The Real Backstairs of the White House.
I only regret that Mr. Holland did not have more to share with us ( which he bemoans himself) and thank him for educating me on a subject that was never mentioned in my time in school.
This is a captivating story of people who have been ignored by history. Holland uses his impressive research abilities to finally bring some of their tales to light. It is a masterful effort.
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