cover image A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House

A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House

Jonathan W. White. Rowman & Littlefield, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5381-6180-7

White (Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln), a professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University, provides a granular study of Abraham Lincoln’s practice of welcoming African Americans to the White House. Pushing back against historians who have questioned Lincoln’s commitment to “racial egalitarianism,” White documents the president’s meetings with Daniel Payne, a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; former slaves who joined the Union Army; and abolitionists including Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Through these and other visits, Lincoln demonstrated his “willingness to welcome black leaders into his orbit when discussing great matters of state,” according to White, who admits that it was “terribly condescending” of the president to lecture a group of African American leaders who visited the White House in 1862 about slavery’s “evil effects on the white race” and why free Blacks would be better off leaving the country, but raises the possibility that it was part of Lincoln’s efforts to prepare “a white racist Northern public” for the Emancipation Proclamation. The detailed recaps of each meeting can grow tedious, and White sometimes overreaches in his readings of primary sources. Still, this is a rich and comprehensive account of a groundbreaking aspect of Lincoln’s presidency. (Feb.)