Award Winning, White House correspondent, Ken Walsh has penned one of the most fascinating and insightful books ever written on the American presidency. Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House opens a vignette into the presidency, and America itself, that most of us would have never found on our own. Just when you think you have read it all and viewed the White House from every angle, comes a book that defies many cherished opinions.
Says Walsh, “Most presidents were racists who did not believe in equality for African Americans. Eight of the first 12 presidents had slaves in the White House–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor. The sad fact is that even the few presidents who favored racial justice stepped back from it because they didn’t want to alienate Southern conservatives and racist members of Congress.”
Here are some insights from Ken Walsh’s fascinating new bestseller, Family of Freedom.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, embarrassed by his paralyzed legs due to polio, trusted only his black chief valet to assist with his fire drills in the White House residence: Not even his family was permitted to see him in this vulnerable state. Yet regarding policy decisions about race, though Roosevelt was a pioneer in many other arenas, he was reluctant to take on the Southern power barons in Congress.
One of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s black servants, Preston Bruce, regularly spotted the president and first lady scampering between each others’ bedrooms. Jackie Kennedy once said, according to Bruce, “with a twinkle in her eye … ‘Don’t worry, Bruce. We know you’re married, too.’”
Yet Kennedy made only halting strides toward civil rights because like so many of his predecessors, he was worried about losing Southerners’ support. And when entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. brought his white wife to a White House event, JFK made excuses to depart early. Davis never forgave him, backing Richard Nixon for the next election.
Herbert Hoover felt servants should be neither seen nor heard. When a bell warned of his presence in the residence, servants would jump “like jack-in-a-boxes” into broom closets. Under the next presidents, old habits died hard. When gardeners crouched behind rose bushes to let the president pass, Harry S. Truman asked “Why are those people peeping at me?” Later, Dwight Eisenhower asked “Why don’t I see anyone working?” and he asked that they stop the “foolishness” of hiding when he passed by.
Ken Walsh, described as “one of the most experienced and longest-serving reporters ever to cover the White House,” probably knows as much about the presidency than any other person alive. Walsh, a senior journalist for U. S. News, is the former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. His other books include: From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats (2005); Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes (2003); Feeding the Beast: The White House Versus the Press (second edition, 2002); and Ronald Reagan: Biography (1997).