Review: A Black History of The White House

It is both true that Clarance Lusane’s A Black History of the While House is simply described by its title and evokes complex reactions.  On the simple side of the equation, he creates a direct telling of the historical facts that surround the landmark, its historical occupants, and the nation they lead.  That telling adopts the perspective of Black America.  His unflinching adherence to that perspective and direct language that expresses it is sure to ruffle some feathers.  History should ruffle feathers.

Historians writing from a non-conventional perspective expect readers to nitpick their facts.  Lusane meets such challenges with solid, well-documented research and citations that clearly direct readers to its basis.  This is a scholarly work.

The scholarly nature of the work does not preclude Lusane from including fresh and speculative histories as well.  History is an ongoing excavation and he includes current work – specifically allegations and investigations into discrimination faced by the first Balck Secret Service agent to work in the White House and its effects on the Kennedy assassination. Touching those topics tests Lusane’s scholarship and he meets the challenge handily, making it clear what’s established and what’s speculation, without taking unwarranted stands.

Lusane does not flinch from underscoring his perspective through his expression, which is certain to offend some readers.  Because he is taking the Black American perspective to this history, he  tends to refer to the positions of principals on slavery and discrimination more directly than conventional histories: “slave owner George Washington” rather than “First president […].” The effect is strong.  A reader who uses it as a door into the viewpoint of a downtrodden people can broaden their perspective through it.  An offended reader may close the book.  I prefer the broadening of perspective, but even I feel my knee jerk the other way.

Overall, a clear, expressive, well written history from a clear perspective.  A worthy voice added to history’s discussion.


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