First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a memorable speech during the Democratic National Convention on Monday (July 25) in Philadelphia, during which she reflected on her family’s historically significant eight years at the White House as its first African-American family.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, Black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly defended the working conditions slaves faced while building the White House during The O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday (July 26):
“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.”
He continued with “fact checking” lesson by adding that the construction of the White House was a project that used white labor as well.
“In addition, free Blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.”
White House Historical Association findings acknowledge the use of slaves as carpenters and stone masons in building the President’s home, but its records make no reference to how the slaves were treated.
When President Obama took office in 2009, National Archives researcher Reginald Washington investigated a number of documents detailing the extent of slave labor at the White House.
Washington told NPR that slave owners provided clothing and blankets while city commissions gave slaves food and housing, but their living quarters were “not much more than huts.”
Additionally, slaves were listed by only first name and made less money than white workers, according to Treasury records housed at the National Archives. However, the slaves’ wages were claimed by their masters.