Monday, February 26, 2024

Review - A House Built by Slaves

Title:  A House Built by Slave
Author Jonathan W. White
Publisher:  Post Hypnotic Press
Genre:   Biographies & Memoirs; History
Format:  Audiobook ALC
No. of Pages:   240
Length:  9 hr 31 min
Narrator:  Jesse Lipscombe
Date of Publication:   December 21, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars

*First published February 15, 2022

The forgotten but essential story of how President Lincoln welcomed African Americans to his White House in our nation’s most divided and war-torn era.

Jonathan White illuminates why Lincoln’s then-unprecedented welcome of African Americans to the White House transformed the trajectory of race relations in the United States. From his 1862 meetings with Black Christian ministers, Lincoln began inviting African Americans of every background to his home, from ex-slaves from the Deep South to champions of abolitionism such as Frederick Douglass. More than a good-will gesture, the president would confer with his guests about the essential issues of citizenship and voting rights. Drawing from an array of primary sources, White reveals how Lincoln used the White House as the stage to amplify African American voices. Even 155 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s inclusion of African Americans remains a necessary example in a country still struggling from racial divisions today.


For the last couple of years, memoirs have become an interest of mine. When I saw the audiobook of A House Built by Slaves pop up on NetGalley, I was immediately intrigued. In fact, the remainder of the title shows as "African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House."

During the years between 1861 and 1865, the Civil War was raging in America. At the same time, the president at that time, Abraham Lincoln, was engaged in a different fight, that of welcoming African Americans to the White House, forever changing most of America's hold on slavery. 

What was interesting to me - okay, I have been out of school for decades - was (re)learning about colonization. In fact, for a time Lincoln was a strong advocate of colonization. He began meeting with African Americans at the White House, but had wanted to implement a way to have Blacks migrate to other countries. In fact, Lincoln once said, "your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people...but on the broad continent, not a single man of your race is made at the equal of a single of ours."

However, Lincoln continued to meet with various guests at the White House and soon his decisions, if not his very words, began to take on a transformation. Citizenship of African Americans, as well as voting rights, became matters of importance to Lincoln. In fact, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated, "that all persons held as as slaves...are, and henceforward shall be free." These were not mere words of Lincoln's, but his actions showed even more concern for a race that was experiencing so much turmoil.

Jonathan W. White does quite a remarkable job exploring the various ways in which Lincoln used his platform at the White House to initiate change for African Americans. I thought it was a good note in the book that Lincoln could not simply initiate policy even though he was President of the United States. It took years for the Proclamation to be signed, and today, 155 years later, African Americans are still struggling in many respects.

A lot of the focus in White's book was about how often Lincoln met with African Americans at the White House and how these frequent meetings went a long way when it came to changing Lincoln's attitude and reference to Blacks. Of course, Lincoln faced many an objection to his changing views of Blacks, even to the point of being assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The freedoms and kindness that Lincoln showed Blacks did not extend to future presidents for decades.

It is hard to believe that this book was only 240 pages. White did an excellent job reminding readers like myself of what our forbearers experienced and what many are still dealing with during our present day.
Many thanks to Post Hypnotic Press and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


Jonathan W. White is professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University. He is author or editor of 17 books and more than 100 articles, essays and reviews about the Civil War, slavery and emancipation, African American history, Abraham Lincoln, and the U.S. Constitution. His book Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln was named a best book of 2014 by Civil War Monitor, was a finalist for both the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and the Jefferson Davis Prize, and won the Abraham Lincoln Institute's 2015 book prize. Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War was named a best book of 2017 by Civil War Monitor. His 2018 book, "Our Little Monitor": The Greatest Invention of the Civil War, co-authored with Anna Gibson Holloway, was a finalist for the Indie Book Awards and honorable mention for the John Lyman Book Award. He is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, serves on the Boards of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute and the Abraham Lincoln Association, and is the Vice Chair of The Lincoln Forum. He also serves on the Ford’s Theatre Advisory Council, the editorial board of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and as editor of both Lincoln Lore and ​The Lincoln Forum Bulletin. In 2019 he won the Outstanding Faculty Award of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the highest award given to faculty in the Commonwealth. His recent books include My Work Among the Freedmen: The Civil War and Reconstruction Letters of Harriet M. Buss (2021), which he co-edited with his student, Lydia Davis; To Address You As My Friend: African Americans' Letters to Abraham Lincoln (2021); A House Built By Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House (2022), which was co-winner with Jon Meacham of the 2023 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize; Shipwrecked: A True Civil War Story of Mutinies, Jailbreaks, Blockade-Running, and the Slave Trade (2023); and (2023), which he co-edited with Brian Matthew Jordan. In 2024, he published his first children's book, My Day with Abe Lincoln.​

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