The Truman Reconstruction

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Michelle Obama’s remarks about waking up every morning in a White House built by slaves. I believe that only the facade of that White House remains, that the White House was completely gutted and rebuilt nearly 70 years ago (not by slaves), and that the present White House was only symbolically built by slaves.

When Harry and Bess Truman moved into the White House following Franklin Roosevelt’s death in office it was in falling down condition and woefully out-of-date to boot. Between that and the remodeling done by Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s it’s materially a different White House. For symbolic effect I’ll take Truman’s gutting and rebuilding the White House which coincided with his integration of the military over waking up in a White House the facade of which was partially built by slaves any day.

6 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Interesting that the reference is made to slaves that helped build the structure, as opposed to the slaves that walked those same halls. The descendant of the slave/servant class is now the master. Perhaps the comparison is unflattering in its class-recognition. Or maybe the importance of a building lies in laying a foundation for reparations, slaves helped build something that is still of value today, not lost in the transitory nature of most services.

  • The symbolic value of the White House may be either divisive or unifying. In the body of my post I’ve provided an outline of how the unifying symbolism may be emphasized. Was Michelle Obama’s symbolism unifying or divisive?

    Frankly, it’s astonishing to me that the notionally progressive media are completely unable to get beyond the First Lady’s race.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think she was employing a Whig view of history in which the Obamas are the culmination of the dreams of slaves, and Hillary is the culmination of the dreams of women who labored in the background of history. Vote D!!!

    I don’t know that I expect a Convention to attempt much more than unify the party, but there was a Presidential candidate that said this last week:

    “What about our economy? Again, I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper: Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are not employed.”

  • steve Link

    And you accuse me of being pedantic.


  • If you’re addressing me, you’re confusing thoughtful and erudite with pedantic. I think that rather than hitting the ball out of the park, as most of her admirers would have it, the First Lady missed an opportunity.

  • G. Shambler Link

    Another angle, I read somewhere (daily mail?) that from the first Obama inauguration on to other events, the Kennedy family was Disinvited because Michelle thought they were “trashy” and their decorating tastes low class.
    Put another way, the “built by slaves” means mine, not yours.
    and may be an expression of female pettiness we’re all too familiar with.
    You use what you have. if she were a decendant of Albert Einstein, she would throw that in your face

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