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Slaves Built The White House, Not Interns: The Reality of Slave Labor in America


Michelle Obama gave a wonderful and hard hitting speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention on Monday, July 25th, in Philadelphia.

While the majority of her speech was her advocation of Hillary Clinton for president, one line of her speech hit hard with many viewers, Republican and Democrat. “I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she remarked.

This exposure of the reality of slave labor was a shock to many Americans. Almost immediately, Michelle was “fact checked,” by a number of different media sources. When it was found that she was indeed correct, it left a slightly sour taste in everyone’s mouth. No one likes to think about slavery, and they definitely don’t want to be hit with the reality of how slavery still affects us today.
Many people like to push away the issue of slavery by coming up with reasons to somehow justify it, or push it away.

This can be shown by the responses to Michelles speech, anything from mentioning that other laborers also worked on the White House, or when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said in his talk show, “The O’Reilly Effect,” that the slaves who built the White House “were well fed and had decent lodgings.” He later said he wasn’t excusing slavery, but it sure sounds like it. Why does the fact that they were fed and had a roof over their heads even need to be brought up? They were in bondage, bought and sold as property, put to work against their will.

Yes, the White House was constructed using slave labor. No, this is not surprising. Many buildings were constructed using slave labor during the 18th century in America, the White House being one of the many. Other political establishments, like the US Capitol Building, president’s estates, and even some schools were all built by breaking the backs of those bound in the horrific chains of slavery.

The institution of slavery in engraved in the backbone of the United States of America because it thrived and succeeded here for over 200 years. The first slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619, according to history.com, and weren’t freed from actual slavery until the 1860s (We could talk about the injustice of Jim Crow Laws, which went on for another hundred years, but thats another discussion for another day).

Slavery was an ugly part of our history, but needs to be recognized and dealt with nonetheless. Talking about slavery and the millions of lives it ruined is an important discussion to have when talking about race, politics, and the future of the United States. History has an ugly habit of repeating itself, just in slightly different circumstances, and learning about and discussing past mistakes can prevent them from reoccurring.

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Sam Boyce
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17 years old, senior in high school, wandering around in Michigan.

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