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

Rowman & Littlefield. Feb. 2022. 240p. ISBN 9781538161807. $26. HIST
White, the author and editor of several books on Abraham Lincoln, extends his recent work on Black Americans’ engagement with Lincoln to include their visits to Lincoln’s White House. Drawing heavily on the letters, speeches, memoirs, and newspaper accounts of such meetings, White shows that Black people were welcome visitors, both as invited guests and uninvited drop-ins. That Lincoln extended his hand in greeting them and treated them with dignity and respect spoke volumes about his attitudes toward Black people and gave lie to arguments then, and later by some historians, that Lincoln regarded Black people as inferior and unworthy of serious attention. Rather, as White tells it, Lincoln took Black leaders into his confidence, sought their advice, and encouraged them to promote his policies, especially those securing emancipation and raising Black troops. Lincoln’s unassuming nature in dealing with Black people earned him the respect of Black leaders, but it also cost him politically among northern whites who worried Lincoln’s practices opened the door to social and political equality. White argues these visits did much to move Lincoln toward ever stronger commitments to civil rights.
VERDICT An original and revealing book on a subject heretofore surprisingly missing from the large Lincoln literature.
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