First Lady Michelle Obama brought the house down and inspired plenty of Instagram quotes during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. One moment, in particular, caught the attention of many when Mrs. Obama stated the painful reality of living in the White House.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said Monday evening (July 26). “And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States. So, don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.”
The moment was a reminder of America’s bittersweet history, but some critics believed the statement was political filler. Because history is important, here are some deets on the creation of the White House. In 1792, the White House was designed by Irish architect James Hoban. Hoban’s work in South Carolina was inspiring to President George Washington, who asked him to take part in a design competition for the project.
Construction began on October 13, 1792. After plans for workers from Europe to build the building fell through, free and enslaved African-Americans cut stone in Aquia, Va. for it, the New York Times reports. Slaves also made the main residence and the foundations for the White House. The government didn’t own slaves, but a payroll has been discovered showing payments to slave owners.
In addition to free and enslaved African-Americans building the country’s most beloved building, Scottish immigrants and artisans from Virgina also worked on the White House. The information might not be in the history books, but it was shared on the now defunct White House Historical Association’s website. The story was also told in Jesse J. Holland’s 2014 book, The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House. In an interview with The Smithsonian, the Associated Press writer shared some other the things he found during his research.
“One of the things that surprised me is how much information was written about these slaves without calling them slaves,” he explained. “They were called servants, they were staff— but they were slaves. Andrew Jackson’s horse racing operation included slave jockeys. There have been things written about Andrew Jackson and horses and jockeys, but not one mentioned the word “slaves.” They were called employees in all the records. So, it’s there, once you know the words to look for. I was also surprised with how much time the presidents spent talking about their slaves in those same code words. When you start reading memoirs, ledgers, these people show up again and again and again, but they are never actually called slaves.”
This is also wasn’t the first time the First Lady shared the painful truth. Back in June during her commencement address at the City College of New York, Obama used the same line.
Of course, there were a few who still doubt the First Lady. A few of her biggest supporters and even a few critics backed her up.
Pretty certain the slaves that built it didn't like it either. https://t.co/iV9p344IYZ
— Kelly Clarkson (@kellyclarkson) July 26, 2016
You don't like that Michelle Obama said the White House was built by slaves but you're fine with the fact that the WH was built by slaves.
— Olivia A. Cole is half here (@RantingOwl) July 26, 2016
You can check out FLOTUS’ speech, in full, below.