tv Slavery in Washington DC CSPAN August 24, 2020 1:43pm-2:52pm EDT
tonight oral histories with foot soldiers from the civil rights movement, beginning with gloria grinnell, who talks about her time as a student at richmond's virginia university. she also describes the culture shock she experienced as a californian attending college in virginia. watching tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern. next,ings smithsonian institution secretary longie bunch and david reuben stein discuss the role of slavery in
an a ante bell um. please welcome the 15th director of st. john's church. welcome, good evening. my name is rob fisher. i am thrilled to our friends at the white house historical association asked you to provide space for tonight's conversation. stewart asked if i would share history about this historic room, so i will share that this church was completed in 1816 not only did he decide this church, he was working on rebuilding the white house he belt the decatur house, and if you go and sign
the decatur house, you look up, it's a similar -- it was built as a greek cross, so an even four sides. just six years later in 1822, they expanded the building to make room. we don't know who the architect was tragically latrobe had already died. if anyone is in interesting of helping us solve the mystery, we would love to know, the belltower is a very beautiful addition to the church. indiana side the belltower, it houses a bell forged by paul revere's son, it's stamped 1822, boston revere. it's not the only revere bell that came to washington, but it is the only one that is still in
its place and being used for its original purpose. it's interesting, too, to think about this bell, this is the only building on lafayette square that goes back to the era it goes back to, that is still being used for the purpose for which it was built more than it 00 years later. i'm very happy to say we are open most days of the week. we welcome anybody who likes to come in and just spend time and be in this gracious space. i also feel compelled to mention it usually looks different than it does tonight. stewart was telling me this could be practice for our new teleevangelism ministry, which i do not intend to develop. james mass i son was president in 1816 when st. john's opened. the church decided to offer him a special pew that would be
reserved for his use anytime hi wanted to come to church that would be the president's pew. back then they were actually boxes. you rented your pew box. he was able to use his pew box free of charge. he received that offer. a decision was made to put the president's pew right in the middle of the people rather than up in front which was the high status pew boxes. they wanted his pew to be among the other people here for prayer and worship. that tradition continued where the pews that exist now that you're sitting in. that president was presidents tyler. he personally made sure the president's pew would be in the exact location that the pew box beginning with mass i son. it's the fact that every president has wore shipped in this space at least once. many have become regulars, and some have even become members of
st. john's during their presidencies. one detail that really stirs me is to think about the time during the civil war when abraham lincoln would walk alone across the park from the white house in the evenings. his regular sunday morning church was new york avenue presbyterian church. but in the evening he would walk across the park, sit in the last pew on the south side right over there. you can imagine what was on his heart during those evenings, as he came for a bit of space, a bit of quiet, time to reflect, to pray. he would always leave just before the independence of the service so he could leave undisturbed. it's a prior of mine that this space will continue to serve as a place where people can come and have reflection, can have a
little bit of space and grace in a city that moves very quickly. i want to say to you all, our aim is to be open to all people, no matter what background, no matter what denomination or faith tradition, we want to be here for all of our neighbors, a house for all people. now, i am really excited for the conversation we are about to have tonight, and it's important to say it's good to remember in those early years, those people who passed through this space, who lived and spent time in the neighborhoods surrounding this building, all of those people, no matter what color of their skin, no matter their stature, no matter their disposition, everyone was affected by the economic and the moral reality.
of institution of slavery. in one historical detail i want to leave you with, a poignant note, the second rector of rector from 1817 to 1845, his name was reverend william hawley, he would have the practice of baptizing african-american babies and marrying african-american couples in his home. and as the historians in this room who have been working hard on the essays that are being produced know very well, we don't have all the records that we would like to be able to tell the story as fully as the story needs to be told, of that time. but we have, in our own registers that we have collected upstairs and in the church archives, we have the registers of all the baptisms and all the marriages, and in some of them we see the notes where it says
where it took place. when he would marry african-americans, he would usually do it in his home and his family would be the witnesses. on january 11th, 1828, reverend hawley married emmaline mathews and william praits. elmmaline was listed in the registry as colored and william was listed as slave. and just think, the very next wedding listed in the same registrar took place in the white house for john quincy adams' son. thank you all for being here tonight to have this important conversation that we are privileged to host and i will now welcome forward my good friend, stewart mclaurin, the president of the white house historical association. [ applause ]
>> thank you very much, rob. and to reverend fisher and the people of st. john's church, it's wonderful to be in your historic home, in this historic neighborhood here tonight, for this very, very important conversation. i also want to thank the string queens who performed for us, as you were coming in. they're our local washington, d.c. group, and it's wonderful to have them with us tonight and i hope you enjoyed their music. [ applause ] to our friends joining us tonight by c-span and on facebook live, welcome. we hope you enjoy this conversation. and it encourages you along with everyone here to dive deeper into the topic that we'll be unpacking for you this evening. i'm here tonight on behalf of the board of directors of the white house historical association, our national counsel on white house history. many of them are with us tonight, welcoming you all for this wonderful conversation that our historians have been working on for several years. it was in may of 2016 at a
speech at the city college of new york and later that summer at the political convention in philadelphia. first lady michelle obama delivered a speech on both occasions that included these words. i wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. in the days that followed, our phone lines, our email, our internet, our press office, our historians were all inundated from the public, the press, people wanting to know the story behind those very compelling words. my first call was to dr. lonnie bunch, that will be part of our conversation tonight. say, lonnie, we need to know more about this story. we know anecdotes, but we need to know names, we need to know dates, we need to know specifics.
it's the people's house, the white house, but we need to know about the people that built the house. and the people that impacted it beyond the president and the first families. he was very generous to introduce his historians at the national museum of african-american history and culture to our historians and thus began a three-year project, delving into this topic. during that time, we had the privilege to host a decatur house, a group called the presidential leadership scholars. this is a program that is a collaboration of the presidential libraries and foundations of presidents clinton, both bushes, and president johnson. and they bring together these young, dynamic early career leaders. and they were at a program at decatur house right across the park where, as rob said, is our headquarters. they went up into the historic slave quarters that night and i think they were intrigued, encouraged, maybe a little inspired, but they took us to
task that we needed to do a better job of telling that story and interpreting that space. so we folded that story of decatur house and the last remaining example of slave quarters in the president's neighborhood into this story that we're telling tonight. we previously, this week, earlier this week, unveiled our website, emphasis on this topic with a treasure-trove of research documents and papers and at whitehousehistory.org, you can find all of those when you go home tonight and encourage your friends to do so as well. this is not the end of what we'll be doing. this is really the beginning. we're raising the curtain on this conversation and we want to encourage it through our continued research and ongoing program that we'll be undertaking, as well. this fits with our mission. we were founded in 1961 by first lady jacqueline kennedy, to be the non-profit, non-partisan partner to the white house. every year, we provide
nontaxpayer-funding to maintain the beautiful museum standard of those state rooms that you see on the main floor of the white house. but also important to miss kennedy was an education mission. she challenged us to teach and tell the stories of the white house and its history going back to 1792 when george washington selected that piece of land across the street and hired the young irish architect james hoben to build the white house. we do that through building programs, such as tonight, our books, publications, quarterly magazine, our robust website, social media, a podcast, many other ways. we have teacher institutes where we bring teachers from all over the country. we engage students and i actually have some friends of mine here tonight who are students. reverend fisher mentioned the president's pew. well, seated in the president's pew tonight are students from calvin coolidge high school in washington, d.c. they participated in a podcast with me and wonderful students.
and i would like them to stand. are they here? [ applause ] there we are. and so tonight, they're in the president's pew. and one thing we like to think of as educators, as we plant the seed and we water the seed, but we may never see the results of that education. and we hope one day, these students and their peers are back here, maybe as president of the united states, sitting in the president's pew. so they're great friends of mine and it's great to have them here this evening. we have the privilege of having two wonderful presenters tonight, david rubenstein is the cofounder and co-executive chairman of the carlyle group. he has been the chairman of the board and held senior governance positions with many organizations that you're very familiar with, including the smithsonian institution, the john f. kennedy memorial performing arts center, which is the living memorial for
president kennedy, the harvard corporation, duke university, council on foreign relations, and many others. he has a heart and a passion for patriotic philanthropy. and he invests in places that are involved in history like the white house historical association, our sister institutions that are supporting history causes, great american monuments like the lincoln memorial and the washington monument, he has helped save. he has been a giver of transformational gifts that allow us through the david m. rubenstein national center for white house history to have programming like this and undertake the research that we do. we're very, very grateful to him for that support. if you've had the opportunity to watch him on his television show, on the bloomberg network, peer-to-peer conversations with david rubenstein, i know you will enjoy that, as i have. he is the recent -- he's recently an author of a book, "the american story:conversations with master
historians." and through his generosity, you will all be receiving a copy of this book as you leave tonight. [ applause ] our other presenter tonight is dr. lonnie bunch, who is the 14th secretary of the smithsonian institution. he's the first african-american and the first historian to hold this very important role in our country. [ applause ] you know him well as the founding director of the national museum of african-american history and culture. and as i mentioned earlier, he was the very first person i called when this initiative came on to our radar screen. he, too, is the author of a new book, "a fool's errand: creating the national museum of african-american history and culture in the age of bush, obama and trump." and i really encourage you to read this because it tells the
amazing story of someone who is able to move and mix and make things happen across political lines and beliefs. and that's a wonderful thing in this day in time. and his role, as is our role at the white house historical association is the same regardless of who the president and the first lady may be. our role is to support the people of the united states and the resources that they have here in washington, the smithsonian institution and the historic white house. he is the adviser to many boards, including the committee for the preservation of the white house, which we work with very closely and collaboratively. and we are really thrilled and honored to have both david rubenstein and lonnie bunch with us here tonight. please join me in welcoming to the stage. [ applause ] >> so, lonnie, you think in
1816, when this was opened for james madison, you or i or the ancestors would have been here? >> the back door, right. >> so we're very honored to be here tonight and this is an historic place and a terrific place to talk about the white house, the history and slavery related to it. just before i dig into that, though, at the african-american history and culture museum, i want to get tickets to go and see something, how do i get tickets to go? because everybody wants to go see this museum. >> well, everybody has been calling me, and i've tried to say that i'm no longer there. but what i've been struck by is the desire is so great that a few months ago a woman called and said she wanted tickets. and i said, you know, i don't do that. and she said, you've got to give them to me, because i was your girlfriend in seventh grade. now, i got to be honest, when you're 13, you remember every crush. i didn't know that person from adam, but i gave her the tickets because it was a good tie.
>> so that's the technique that people should use if they want tickets. so that museum, it took you how he many years to get that from beginning to end? >> i worked on it for 11 years. >> 11 years. when you took the job, how much money did the federal government give you for that? >> when we began, we had one staff, no collections, no money, no idea where the museum would be. the smithsonian had $1 million to get started. i spent that in like two weeks. >> so ultimately, you got artifacts largely given by citizens of our country. how many artifacts and historic things did you bring to the museum? >> we collected nearly 40,000 artifacts, of which 70% came from the basements, trunks, and
attics of people's homes. we realized that the idea that this culture, this history was still available, we felt the only way we could do it, if we could get people to share with us their stories, their families, their histories through those collections. >> so among the things you have is you have nat turner's bible, harriet tubman's shawl, but the most popular item in the museum is which one? >> chuck berry's candy apple red cadillac. an artifact that i did not want, did not think it was important, which shows you my leadership skills. >> and how many people have been to the museum since it opened? >> about 7.3 million. >> and the average person who goes to a smithsonian museum spends about an hour and a half there. what is the average time someone spends going to this museum? >> 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. so it really is -- it tells you that if you craft stories in a dramatic way that people will
spend the time to understand, to think about and to debate. so we're really pleased it's become the kind of site in some ways almost a pilgrimage site that people feel the need to be part of. so we're really grateful to have the opportunity to work with people like you and the gifted staff to create that museum. >> so the federal government ultimately put up $272 million, the taxpayers. how much have you raised from citizens around the country? >> about $350 million. >> wow. okay. very impressive. [ applause ]. so, let's talk about the great birth defect of this country? how did it happen that this country had slavery? was it ordained when settlers came over here that we were going to have slaves? how did that actually come about? >> what you have are really two systems that are created. you have spanish colonies in florida and mexico where they
begin to bring africans, some as enslaved people as early as 1550. in the united states -- or what became the united states, you have the first africans coming in 1619 in jamestown. but the process of becoming a slave took time. initially the africans were like indentured servants. within 30 to 40 years, it was clear that africans were then restricted to slavery for life. and so what you realize is that slavery is both an economic system, a system of labor, later it's a system of social control, as more and more africans come to this world. but i think the most important thing to remember is that slavery from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century was the most dominant institution in the united states. that almost every aspect of our culture, whether it was
politics, foreign policy, industry, was all shaped by either slave trade, slavery, the labor of slaves, or the money that was invested in slaves. and i've always been struck that when you think on the eve of the civil war, there was more money invested in slaves, in the enslaved population, than in railroads, banking, business combined. so it tells you, it is so central to understanding who we are. so that's why this kind of conversation is so important, because this is not an ancillary story. this is the central story to helping us understand who we once were and shaped us who we are to this very day. >> so the first africans who came here, were they brought as indentured servants, where theoretically they'd work for a few years and then leave, or was it clear they were slaves from the beginning for forever? >> i think it's clear that they were viewed as different. but i think kind of the way that we can tell by the formal
records, it's really the 1640s to 1660 that you see the institution of slavery made sort of concrete, if you will. >> so ultimately, in south america, central america, and the united states, what became the united states, a total of 20 million slaves at one point were, i guess, here, but how many were actually brought over? mostly more in central america and south america than in the united states? >> what you have to realize is that only 13% of the millions of africans that were taken from africa and brought to the new world, only 13% came to the united states. more came to places like brazil, in the caribbean, but yet that
13% became such a large, important part of the population of the united states that it really sort of began to outweigh its initial numbers. >> well, larger numbers were in brazil and other places, because they died much more rapidly, because of the -- lots of the weather and other treatments and so forth there than the united states, is that right? >> well, you also had sort of the agriculture was better developed in terms of sugar and the like in the caribbean, so that's where it started. >> okay, so, totally, the united states brought over about, was it, 800,000 or 600 to 800,000 africans who came to the united states. now, obviously, they reproduce and so forth. but at the time of the revolution, we had about half a million slaves, right? >> right. >> and at the time of the civil war, about 4 million slaves. >> at the time of the civil war, we had about 4 million enslaved africans and about 1.5 freed africans in both the north and south. >> if you were brought over on a slave ship, what was the chance you were going to survive? >> well, there's a lot of debate about mortality. many people feel that 30 to 50% of those that brought on those ships perished.
either perished on the ships or perished on the way to plantations or mines where they ultimately worked. so the fact that it was key that that middle passage was really something that was hard for people to survive, and it really was one of the markers of understanding the impact of slave trade on the africans. >> so when the declaration of independence was agreed to, more or less on july the 4th, 1776, we fought a revolutionary war that went on until 1783, finally finished with the treaty of paris. at that time in the declaration of independence, was there any mention of slaves? was slavery anything that put the people in the declaration wanted to mention as a problem? or they didn't address it? >> i think that, you know, there's this whole discussion around jefferson sort of beginning to identify the treatment of the colonists like they were enslaved. but i think there was such a
concern that if you begin to explore the question of slavery, you, as colonials, have to figure out, what does that mean for us? and so i think slavery is always the most visible thing, but also the thing that's often tried to not be mentioned. >> and jefferson is considered the author of the declaration of independence. there were obviously people who made changes along the way, but he wrote this famous sentence that became the most famous sentence in the english language. we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, but how can he say all men are created equal when he had slaves throughout his lifetime and he wasn't proposing to end slavery, how could he get away with saying that? >> that's what i call the paradox of liberty. on the one hand, here is jefferson, who defines our notion of what liberty is, what independence and freedom is, but then you realize, the only reason he was able to do that is because he understood what slavery was. in essence, because he saw and used the power to control other people, he understood what
freedom meant. but i think that for me, what's so powerful is, how do you unpack that? how do you help people understand that at the same time he is seen as a symbol around the world of freedom, he's also a symbol around the world of american culpability, american embracing of slavery. and in essence, for us, we're still as a people trying to untangle that. trying to really be clear what it means that we are a nation of freedom that was based on slavery. >> so, when the revolutionary war is over, the treaty of paris is signed, we go through government and the articles of confederation, that wasn't thought to be working. so a constitutional convention is held in philadelphia. and in that constitutional convention, george washington presides over it. is there any mention in the constitution, when it finally is revealed, of slavery? >> well, there's always these
amazing debates in the constitution. and one is about representation. and the notion was that representation is based simply on population. well, to many people, that meant, do you count slaves, the enslaved population? does that give the south more impact, more influence? so you have the three fifths amendment. where enslaved people are counted as three fifths of a person for taxation and for representation. and that really sort of speaks to the way enslaved people were viewed. that they weren't completely human. that they were not equal. >> the word "slave" is not actually used in the constitution, per all the obvious reasons, they didn't want to quite admit what they had, but obviously recognized it and in effect, they banned the importation of slaves after a certain period of time, but they still didn't use the word
"slave." but let's move forward. so the capital of the country initially is new york. george washington becomes the first president. he lives in new york. but then congress passes a law saying that we're going to move the capital to philadelphia and then, eventually, a place south of that, in order to deal with certain debt issues that the government had. there was a compromise and ultimately, it was decided to move it further south than philadelphia. george washington is given the right to pick this site and he picks something on the potomac. why did he pick this potomac area? >> well, in some way, it was a place that already had, you know, georgetown was here, there was some sort of tobacco trading. he had the river systems. so he thought that this was a really nice spot that was between the north and south. >> okay. so they're going to build a capital city here, federal city, not yet named after him, though eventually it was named after him. was -- were there any slaves living in the washington area at the time?
>> well, from the very beginning of what we call the washington area, there were plantations. so there were enslaved people that lived here before it became officially washington. >> so to build the city of washington, did they import labor from overseas or did they just use slave labor? who really built it? >> i think washington is built by many people. it is built by immigrants that are brought in to work, but there's a strong sort of enslaved population that turns the land from, you know, swamp to farmland, that begins to identify and cut down the trees, the timber that is used, that also quarries the stone, so that enslaved labor is -- touches all aspects of what would become washington, d.c.. >> so let's suppose i'm a plantation owner and i have some slaves. i want to help the city of washington or what became washington be built. i would say, i'll have you use some of my slaves. would i get paid for that and did the slaves get any of that compensation? what did slave labor get, typically?
>> what you have is first of all, you have people who use their enslaved population to do the work, and those folks rarely got compensated. then what would happen is many times, enslaved craftspeople and others were hired out. that you would say, i am building a building, and i need to have labor. i would like to hire three of your carpenters or three of the people that you work with. usually what would happen is the person building the structure would pay the plantation owner. sometimes it was done in a way to incentivize the slave that they would get a small portion of that. but it really was most of the revenue went back to the owner. >> so the government is operating out of philadelphia, as they're building the city of washington, what became washington, d.c. and george washington is supervising it. he's picking various people to help with the design. he picked somebody to design the white house.
is that right? >> mm-hmm. >> and that was someone from europe, who actually was the designer. when they started building the design or building the design that had been agreed to, was it slave labor that actually did build the white house? >> over 200 enslaved people worked to construct the white house. that while there were craftspeople from ireland, england, and parts of the united states that did a lot of the work, the enslaved people played a crucial role. they did a lot of the quarrying of the stone from virginia and getting the stone up here. they did a lot of the work of getting the lumber, doing some of the initial work that needed to be done. so there is no doubt that you do not have a white house without the enslaved labor. >> so when it was finally completed, it took about eight years to finally build the
house. george washington was no longer president and the president was john adams. he came down, lived here only for a few months before his term was up. he only served one term. but did he -- when he lived there, did he have any slaves servicing the white house? >> adams didn't own any slaves, but there were enslaved people who worked at the white house. so that you begin to have enslaved people working from almost the inception, really through into the 1850s, working in the white house, itself. >> so he was very careful not to ever own slaves. he didn't believe in slavery, i guess. but he, in effect, had some enslaved people working at the white house, and he presumably knew they were enslaved. >> well, there was labor that was needed. so there were -- for adams, there were people who did the laundry, some of the people that did the work around the exterior who took care of the horses were enslaved. >> okay, well, adams was seceded by jefferson. jefferson was a big slave owner. and he had a longtime relationship with the slave,
sally hemmings. did he actually ever bring sally hemmings to the white house? >> what jefferson did is that he brought some of sally hemmings' family to the white house, but what jefferson did was that he brought a portion of his own enslaved population, but often he used people that were already here. because you wanted to keep people on the plantation, but jefferson realized, like so many, that the key to his success was to not to have to pay for all the labor, but use enslaved labor to save money. >> so jefferson was seceded by madison. madison also was a slave owner. did he bring slaves to the white house? >> nine of the first twelve presidents brought enslaved people, used enslaved labor at the white house. because you're really trying to figure out what do you need to get a building going to get a white house going? what do you need for the entertainment?
so what they realized is that it's slave labor that was going to provide the foundation for them to craft and create what became the white house. >> so one of his aides or assistants was a slave named paul hemmings, who later wrote a book about what it was like to work at the white house. did that book have a lot of credibility? did people believe what a slave wrote in those days or why did they accept it? >> i think it's important to realize that the enslaved people often didn't have a voice, but when they had the opportunity to write or to have their stories told, they shared them in a very candid way. it's really one of the first books to help us understand about what life was like in the white house. and it was interesting, because through the lens of someone who was enslaved brings a special richness to it. so many people who were from the north were against slavery, but they didn't have any problems going to the white house where there was slave labor. they just accepted that it was part of life in washington?
>> well, remember that there was a difference between being opposed to slavery and feeling that african-americans are equal. are people that you can interact with. there were people that were comfortable from whatever parts of the united states were comfortable with african-americans and a second class citizen doing the kind of basic work that needed to be done. they may have opposed slavery, but they also didn't champion equality. >> so in the early days of washington, d.c., when, let's say adams was president, jefferson, madison, monroe, washington was mostly a white city? but there were some slaves and some freed african-americans? >> throughout the 19th century, approximately a third of the population of washington, d.c. was african-american. now, there were places like georgetown that had a predominantly african-american community in the 18th and early 19th century.
and what you have in washington is what i love to say is this neighborhood that we're in was a black neighborhood. it was a neighborhood of unequals, but it was a neighborhood where many african-americans lived, many as enslaved, some as free. so i think it's important to realize that for many people, african-americans, washington, became their home, and they did a variety of jobs to be essential to the city. >> so there were a fair number of freed african-american slaves here but also a number of african-american slaves. did you have to carry papers with you down the streets, so if someone said to you, you're a slave, you shouldn't be doing this or that? how did they do that? how did they handle that? >> washington became a place where the free black population began to grow. partly people were manumitted.
often when people gain their freedom in places like virginia and north carolina, they were encouraged to leave, not to stay. many came to washington, d.c. as you get into the 1810, 1820s, you begin to develop what we call black codes. there were laws passed to control the free black community, to make sure that they registered. there were laws that in the 1820s that said, if you were free and black and wanted to stay in washington, you needed to have somebody white write a letter attesting to your character. there were laws that prevented african-americans from being out together after a certain time at night or reduced the number of african-americans that could come together. part of this is out of fear, part of this is out of social control. >> andrew jackson, when he became president, he had been a slave owner as well. did he bring slaves to washington, d.c., as well? >> andrew jackson is so interesting on many levels. not only does he bring enslaved people, but during his administration, through the trail of tears and others, they have this removal of all of
these indians in the southeast, which opens all of that land up for agriculture and for southern plantations. what happens, as a result of jackson's administration, you have thousands of africans who were enslaved in maryland, delaware, north carolina, d.c. they moved south. they're sold south to build the new plantations, and that changes the dynamic of the city. >> the white house today faces lafayette square, and jackson park. and a lot of town homes that have been restored there. those homes were initially built by slaves? >> a lot of those homes had slave labor involved. there were crafts people, sometimes enslaved, sometimes free, sometimes not. so a variety of people. and part of what i love about what the white house historical society is doing is helping us understand more about who did what. in some ways, this work that's being done really gives humanity back to these people who we say
were just enslaved. >> one of the houses that is still on lafayette park and is decatur house, which is where the white house historical association has its offices, so decatur house was named after a famous navy admiral, steven decatur, who in a duel died and didn't live very long in that house, butted that house had slave quarters in it. is that right? >> that's one of the houses that we know has a slave area that still exists. there were probably other parts in other houses around this area that changed over time, but that is one of the special places to be able to actually go and stand in a space that the enslaved lived. >> so abraham lincoln is elected president in 1860. and before he -- in those days, the election were in november, but you didn't take office until march, so there was a long
period of time in between. but in that period of time, a number of southern states began to secede from the union. so lincoln moves to washington, at that time, when he came in as president, 1861 and took office, was there a big african-american population then in washington, d.c.? was it larger than the white population? but it was still a slave area. is that right? >> when lincoln is elected in 1860, you have a population of about 12,000 freed african-americans and about 6,000 enslaved. so you see that although there were a large number of enslaved people early, it changes in washington. so by the time lincoln comes there is a strong slave population, and there's a free black population. where it grows dramatically is once the war breaks out. and that there are many african-american enslaved who self-liberate, who leave to come to union lines or who come to washington and there are
literally tens of contraband camps, camps for the self-liberated on arlington cemetery, 7th and florida, up by the old soldier's home. so washington is changing as a result of the civil war and more and more african-americans formally enslaved are coming into this area. >> abraham lincoln never owned any slaves. is that correct? >> that's right. >> i think his father was very anti-slavery, as an example of the way he was brought up, very much against slavery, although abraham lincoln was not a great abolitionist. is that correct? >> lincoln believed his big issue was that they shouldn't extend slavery into the new territories that were acquired after the mexican american war. >> i think he believed, as well, that slavery was embedded in the constitution. he believed in the constitution, so he thought, as long as southern states alone have slavery, that was sanctioned by the founding fathers, more or less, was his original thinking.
he obviously changed a bit. okay. so he's in the white house, and then the civil war, he's conducting that, and does he decide that it would be a good idea to free the slaves to kind of help end the war? why did it take so long for him to come up with the emancipation proclamation? >> i think part of it is, as lincoln always said, he wanted to preserve the union. and if preserving the union meant protecting slavery, so be it. but ultimately, as the war went on, he realized that there were a couple of things that needed to be addressed. first of all, he had to make sure that the confederacy didn't get the support of european allies. so one of the things he wanted to do was to add a kind of moral justification to the war, so you can say to the french, to the english, to the spanish, this is about freeing people, not simply about an internal civil war. the second piece that was important was that lincoln recognized the centrality -- the labor of the enslaved to the south so what he wanted to do
was to disrupt that by encouraging people to flee areas that were still outside the control of the union army, and that would disrupt the confederate war effort. >> now before he was president, he served one term in congress as a whig. one of the bills he introduced was to in effect free the slaves in the district of columbia and his complicated way was to free them, there would be compensation, it would be gradual and the slaves would be moved somewhere else in what was called colonization. can you explain what colonization was? >> one of the things that happened is the belief that you've got these african-americans who are so different that ultimately if they were not held in bondage, that there would be a great problem in the united states. you know, jefferson always said that slavery was like having a wolf by the ear. if you let it go, it would get you, or it was a fire bell in the night that would shock you,
so many people felt that if you were going to eliminate slavery, you also had to eliminate the enslaved. and so lincoln was part of a group of people that believed that the key was, let us end slavery, but let us colonize, send them to latin america, back to africa, so that they can colonize with sort of the christian spirit that they learned in the united states, but that would be a way to solve the problem, because there was a concern that if you had all of these freed people, what do you do with them? do they strike back, because they're angry from the way they were treated? that was lincoln's notion. he tried it several times. >> he never got anywhere in congress, but when he was president of the united states, he still was enamored with it, and he had a famous meeting with african-american leaders in which he said, come to the white house, i want to talk to you. what did he actually say to them? >> what he said was, i need your support in this idea of colonizing parts of central america, that we would send the
newly freed to central america and many of the african-americans, the notion of going outside the united states by choice was a debate within the african-american community. the notion of being told to leave really angered so many of the abolitionists. so people like frederick douglas were really offended and attacked lincoln when it became clear that his initial notion was send these people outside the united states. >> so for those who may not be expert on what frederick douglas did and who he was, he was a freed -- i guess he was a slave who had escaped, eventually he bought his freedom. but what was his role in society in those days? >> well, frederick douglas was sort of someone who escaped slavery from the eastern shore of maryland, ended up first in philadelphia, then new york, then new bedford. and he became someone who became one of the leaders in the abolitionist movement.
a brilliant speaker. he became -- he was befriended by abolitionist leaders like william lloyd garrison. and douglas becomes the voice of black america. he creates newspapers, he debates with lincoln. he really was seen as somebody who was sort of demanding that america live up to its stated identity, stated ideals. he's not the only person to do that, but he was considered the most visible african-american in the 19th century. >> now, he was very articulate, very eloquent, and many people were surprised by that, because in those days, if you were a slave, you were not allowed to learn how to read. it was considered against the law in some states. is that not the case? >> in some states, yes. >> how did he actually learn how to read? and was that part of his appeal that he was very educated and people were so surprised to see such an educated african-american in that time? >> well, i think, douglas --
there were two things that were crucial to enslaved people. one was freedom. that was the most important thing. but the other thing was that maybe the key to freedom was education. being able to read. and so douglas was able to learn to read by playing with some of the children that he grew up with, overlooking a kind sort of mistress who gave him so lessons. but douglas was just someone who was a voracious reader and had a desire to learn. and he really became -- and he was a self-made man. he really became someone who focused his career on struggling for fairness in this country. >> so he met with lincoln, i think, on three occasions in the white house. >> uh-huh. >> did he actually have a bond with lincoln? did lincoln actually like meeting with him and so forth? >> well, there's debates around that.
i mean, i think that initially, lincoln was concerned that douglas was so critical of his colonization standard. as lincoln is thinking about the emancipation proclamation, suddenly you're talking to people like frederick douglas about, how does this work? and douglas becomes then, if not a champion, more of a supporter of lincoln. and there is this amazing scene near the end of lincoln's life where lincoln speaks at his second inaugural and douglas is there and douglas is trying to get in to see lincoln and he's being stopped by some of the guards and lincoln sees him and waves him in and says, you know, come in, friend douglas. so i think that there was a relationship. i'm not sure it's as close as some people like to make it. >> well, after lincoln's assassination, though, his wife, or i guess the estate gave his walking cane to douglas as a gift, is that right? >> mary todd lincoln, his widow, gave a walking cane to frederick douglas to symbolize what she thought was the bond between
them, but also to symbolize that lincoln was somebody who opened the door and led to the freedom of the enslaved. >> so if the emancipation proclamation is signed on january 1, 1863, the war ends roughly in april of 1865, and then the 13th amendment is ratified after lincoln dies, but it's ratified, so slavery is eliminated. so when slavery is eliminated, everything in washington is fine, blacks can live next to whites, there's no problem, everybody is treated equally. is that right? >> oh, i'm not sure that's even today. [ applause ] >> so how did it happen? the 13th amendment, then the 14th amendment gave citizenship to blacks, the 15th amendment, the right to vote. how is it the case that washington became still as segregated a city, pretty much, as almost any city in the deep south? >> well, remember, segregation was initially a northern phenomenon.
that it's really boston, new york, philadelphia that passes laws to prevent african-americans from going to theaters, that really segregates communities. so it wouldn't be surprising that washington became a segregated city immediately after the civil war, because it was segregated even before. >> so even when i was young in the 1950s, i lived in baltimore, but my parents would bring me over here, washington was as segregated pretty much as baltimore was. so the fact that it was the nation's capital didn't really change anything. washington, d.c. was no different than other large segregated cities in the south. is that right? >> except there were two differences. one is that washington had the federal government. and so there were opportunities for employment that many african-americans had. not at the highest level, but they had the steady jobs that you could get from the federal government. and also, washington had -- washington, d.c. had howard
university. and howard university is so important that people undervalue its impact, because it really made washington a center of black thinking, education, creativity, and that was also part of the appeal of coming to washington, d.c.. >> one of the interesting things about washington, d.c. is that in the constitution, there was no provision for it to have any electoral votes, and therefore people who lived in the district, large numbers of them were african-american, didn't have any right to vote for president or at least members of congress, i should say, so why was that the case? and why did people not say that people that lived in the district should have some voting representation in congress? >> okay, now you're asking me to do my politics. you know, i think that in some ways, there is this debate about what a federal sector is. you know, are you a citizen there, what are your rights? i think that the challenge of washington is that it really is a place where you can call it the sort of last colony.
it's really a place where they don't have the -- and i think it's important to really grapple with the fact that you've got 600,000 people or more, many of whom are voting age, who really have limited rights that are not the same as people around the country. >> in addition to not being able to vote for members of congress or at least have members of congress who have rights to vote in congress, the district was for a long time run, in effect, by the federal government. the citizens here didn't get to pick their own mayors. is that right? >> that's right. i think that really home rule is a 1970s creation. >> so let's go back to finish this story, while we're almost done with the story of race in washington, though we've obviously compressed, you know, a couple hundred years into 45 minutes. >> we missed a few interections and the like. >> because lincoln is assassinated, reconstruction
doesn't go quite as smooth as people thought it would have gone under lincoln. andrew johnson was not exactly the same person as abraham lincoln. reconstruction led to jim crowe laws, the ku klux klan, lynching throughout the south and so forth. and washington, d.c. didn't do that much about federal government. it was largely controlled by some southern members who are not really that favorable to african-americans. not until the civil rights revolution in the 1960s did washington get more interested in actually trying to change these things. is that when it came about, when the civil rights revolution came along, that the federal government officials said, we have to do something to change the laws in this country in the 1950s and 1960s? >> what you have, washington, d.c., again, because of howard university, was really at the forefront of demanding fairness in the 1920s, 30s, '40s. so it really wasn't that they waited until the 1960s, but the pressures on the federal government, the leadership that
the civil rights movement did, the visibility that it received utilizing the media and television put pressure on the federal government to change. >> so in august of 1963, there's the famous march in washington. the federal government at the time didn't want it and president kennedy thought it might lead to violence. there was a lot of concern about it, but it actually went forward and turned out not to be violent at all. but people were so afraid, schools were closed. stores were closed and so forth. so martin luther king was the last speaker that day. he was the last speaker because -- >> in some ways he was considered the leader of the community, and they wanted to give him the best spot. >> i thought they were afraid that he was so articulate that if he spoke first the others wouldn't look as good. you don't believe that's the case? >> john lewis said that. >> that's not true. okay. so he spoke, and he gave a famous speech. that famous speech, "i have a dream" speech, was that
something he wrote -- was written out for him the night before? was it a speech writer that had given that text? where did that speech come from? and the text that he actually had, he kind of departed from it. why did he do that? >> well, there were many sources. he had -- he had said portions of that speech in other places around the country. the story is that as he's giving his speech, mahalia jackson, the great gospel singer, someone that king admired, yelled back at him, there's a picture of her turning, looking at king saying, talk about the dream. say the dream. so the argument is that he changed that to respond to mahalia jackson. that's a great story. that's not true, but it's a great story. so he already had -- he knew he was going to do his "i have a dream." >> that was a speech he had given before the i have a dream part and he kind of did it from memory. >> right. >> but many whites who saw it they were mesmerized. they had never seen him speak that way. many blacks were mesmerized they hadn't seen him speak before.
some people travel and heard that speech before. after the speech is over, is he invited to the white house? >> well, after the speech is over, what happens is the kennedys are moved by what they've heard and what they've experienced. and i think they began to realize that if they're going to grapple with civil rights issues, one of the people they need to deal with is martin luther king. so he becomes sort of a person that the kennedys initially go to. and there's this wonderful story of during the election of 1960, dr. king is arrested. and there was a notion of who was going to help him? was someone from the nixon administration or from the kennedy. and the kennedys actually sent people down to protect martin luther king and help him get out of jail. some people argue that really was what helped many african-americans suddenly believe that somebody from massachusetts with an accent they didn't understand could really champion their cause.
>> so president kennedy's assassinated november 22, 1963 just a few months after the march on washington. lyndon johnson a southerner and man closest friends in the senate were segregationists, he becomes president. would anybody have predicted that he would lead the effort to get the 1964 civil rights act pass and why did he do that given his background, his knowledge that that would probably hurt the democratic party in the south? >> well, on the one hand you've got to remember that when lyndon johnson was a teacher in texas, he was very involved with trying to improve conditions for the latino community. so there is a part of johnson that wasn't just calculated, political move. i think he really felt that fairness was essential and that, yes, he knew that it might hurt the democratic party from the white south, but he thought it would ensure that african-americans would also rally around the party.
and i think that what is so powerful about lyndon johnson is that he has the political sophistication, the connections to be able to go to some of the dixiecrats and the southerners and say, i understand who you are. we've got to change. >> okay. so the '64 civil rights act is passed. eventually the fair housing act is passed as well and '65 voting act. lyndon johnson is post important person? elves the indispensable person for those acts to pass? >> i think it is a combination of lyndon johnson's political acumin and the pressures that are put on by the civil rights movement. >> okay. >> i think that as people begin to see birmingham and selma, as people begin to see the violence that african-americans and others endured, there is a sense that the country has the change and johnson sort of rides that wave.
>> so, if somebody is watching or somebody is here today and they say, well, i'm very interested in what you had to say. what books might i read to give me more of a flavor of what washington went through in the civil rights era, what slavery was in this country, how it was dealt with eventually by the constitutional amendments what would you recommend as good books for people to read? >> well, anything by taylor branch really gives you a good sense of -- >> taylor branch wrote a three-volume book on the civil rights revolution which won the pulitzer prize. >> i think one of the best books to understand sort of race in the 19th century is david blight's biography of frederick douglas. >> also won the pulitzer prize. another book which hadn't yet won the pulitzer prize which is your book.
so highly recommend that book. and that's available on amazon and anywhere else anybody might want to buy it or smithsonian? >> i would never champion my own book. but it's on amazon, and it's also audio book. [ laughter ] >> all right. so lonnie, before we wrap up, you have given your professional career to causes related to civil rights and slavery, knowledge of slavery and obviously created the african-american culture museum. any regrets you didn't go into private equity or something more noble than what you've done and how did you actually come to this career as opposed to something more important like hedge funds, tech startups? >> every time i need to put a new roof on the house, i wonder that question. i'm lucky. i grew up in a family that valued education. and for me, i remember growing up in a town that was very few
african-americans. and there were people that treated me horribly and other people that treated me fairly. and i couldn't understand why. and i remember thinking, talking to my parents, that maybe if you read history, you'll understand a little bit about these interactions. and so ultimately history became first a way for me to understand myself, and then it became a way for me to think, here is an amazing tool that can help a country be made better. here is something that if people understood more about their past, their expectations, their hopes, it could change the country for the better. >> now, you've told a story before. you might briefly tell it again. when you were younger, your father would take you and it was your brother and your mother, you would drive to the south. and you wouldn't stop at certain places. but you ultimately he would take you to the smithsonian. why was that? >> what happened was during the mid '60s, it was the era of the
centennial, the civil war and like many kids i was fascinated by it. and one easter we drove from my home in new jersey to north kline to visit my mother's family. and i suddenly saw all these museums in petersburg and richmond. i would say to my dad, can we stop at the museum of the confederacy, and he never stopped. and so on the way back, i thought okay. i'm going to plan this and give him plenty of warning. and i told him, you know, 20 more miles to the museum, and he kept going. and normally he would drive straight to new jersey. instead he pulled into washington, and he pulled into the smithsonian in front of the museum of -- what is the museum of american history today, and he says here is the place you can learn about your past, your country and not be concerned about the color of your skin. so for me, the smithsonian has always been a place of fairness, a place of possibility, a place where a young kid couldn't learn
stories in some places but the smithsonian always gave him that opportunity. i feel very humbled to be part of the smithsonian . >> i was the co-chairman of the search committee that selected lonnie unanimously. one of the great things about lonnie having been slkted was that when he was officially inaugurated, his mother was there. so what could be better than having your mother come to see you. did she think you should take that job? >> it was the first time my mother said to me i guess a history degree was okay. >> lonnie, i want to thank you for what you have done for our country, thank you for what you've done for the smithsonian. >> thank you. thank you. [ applause ]
>> thank you very much. >> can i get a hedge fund? that's what i'd like. >> thank you to lonnie bunch and david rubenstein for this conversation. in addition to the books that have been recommended, i would like to invite everyone to our website, white house history.org where there is a treasure trove on the history of ep slaved persons of decatur house, those enslaved in lafayette park, as we call it today, who built the white house, and those enslaved to the early american presidents in the white house. thank you for all being here and thank you in support of our historic mission. thank you. [ applause ]
weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every 3. tonight, oral histories with food soldier foot soldiers with the 1960s civil rights movement, beginning with gloria grinnell during her time as a student at richmond virginia union university. she also describes the culture shock she experienced as a californian attending college in virginia. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern. enjoy american history tv this week ander weekend on c-span3. every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, on american history tv on c-span3, hearing about topics ranging from the american
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