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The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  415 ratings  ·  68 reviews
THE INVISIBLES: Slavery Inside The White House and How It Helped Shape America is the first book to tell the story of the executive mansion's most unexpected residents, the African American slaves who lived with the U.S. presidents who owned them. Interest in African Americans and the White House are at an all-time high due to the historic presidency of Barack Obama, and t ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 1st 2016 by Lyons Press
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Start your review of The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House
My favorite chapter was on Slave Rebellions. Decent and interesting if a bit light. My only complaint would be the author's apparent misunderstanding of consensual sex with rape. Enslaved Peoples are unable to consent to sex with persons in a position of ownership or management. Someone who has the power to free an Enslaved Person and their offspring in perpetuity has too much power for consent to mean anything. After all Enslaved Peoples were enslaved without their consent. ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
The portions of this book based on documented fact were fascinating. The chapters on the slaves of Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson I found particularly well researched and compelling. The chapters covering the earliest slave residents of the White House, however, I found less compelling, since (as with most information from that time period) fewer reliable primary source documents existed and there was a larger amount of supposition.

I have two gripes about the book. The first is redundancies,
Each February in honor of the National Black History Month, I read a book by or about African Americans. “The Invisibles” is my choice for 2016. Holland tells the stories of the slaves who worked inside the White House from President Washington until President Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. The slaves worked as cooks, butlers, maids, body servants, doormen and footmen. Holland provides in-depth stories of some slaves, primarily those that had documented history, such as, George Washin ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, and learned a great deal about a long ignored chapter of our history. The book could have done with better editing - some sections were repetitious, and the author tended to jump back and forth a bit. I learned that the first slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619 and that they were 2nd and third generation Christians from what we now call Angloa - not at all what I learned in school . There were some factual errors - John Adams and John Quincy Adams were not Quakers.....B ...more
William Bahr
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Finally told: the story of our presidents' slaves

I really enjoyed this book! I read it for further research for the next revision of my own book on George Washington’s Liberty (Bastille) Key and found a number of interesting things I didn’t know. Unfortunately, I also found a few errors: (p 3) John Adams was not a Quaker, but originally a Congregationalist and then a Unitarian, with John Quincy Adams also a Unitarian.; (p 12) I am not quite sure that New York City was chosen as the first US capi
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
After reading the forward in this book, I was afraid it would be amongst the ever-growing number of revisionist histories in which the editors/authors attempt to rewrite history to suit their agenda. Fortunately, my initial impression could not have been more wrong. Mr Holland does a fantastic job of telling the stories and sharing the facts without bias. He also succeeds in doing so in a captivating and enlightening way.

I came into this read with several preconceived notions, most of which were
Samantha Aspinall
Mar 14, 2019 rated it liked it
The subject and stories of this book were incredibly interesting and I learnt a lot, but the writing style was not enjoyable and the book was often repetitive and lacked good editing
Chris Demer
Aug 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, politics
Most of the presidents up to the Civil War brought slaves with them to serve their needs in the President's residences, and later the White House in Washington. (The two exceptions were John Adams and John Quincy Adams who did not own slaves.)
Although the nation was supposedly based on the tenet that all men are created equal, Black men (and women) were definitely NOT seen as equal.
And although several presidents decried slavery and slave trafficking, they owned slaves and some of them were sl
Brendan Linwood
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it
The Invisibles promises a story begging to be told - the story of the slaves owned by pre-emancipation presidents of the United States. When I first saw this book advertised, months before its release, I immediately added it to my "to-read" list; as a history lover, and in light of current racial tensions and injustices, I was excited to dive into the lives and words of these forgotten men and women. The book does not quite deliver, however. It turns out that very few books and essays have been ...more
Lukas Holmes
Feb 03, 2016 rated it liked it
I am so torn on this review. I heard about this book in an NPR interview and was really exited to finally hear these stories. But, honestly, it falls flat. I understand there is just a big lack of information on the slaves (the title itself gives it away), but Holland perhaps just wasn't the writer meant to bring what we do know to light. While some of the stories are compelling, Holland focuses on some odd mundane things here and there that made me start to think he was attempting to hit a word ...more
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
I wish I could give this maybe 3.8 stars....maybe I will bump it up one more star.... I heard about this title through some website on book suggestions for Black History month. I was intrigued and excited about the title.

I'm assuming at this point that everyone knows that slavery was involved in the White House hundreds of years ago. If you don't know, then frankly, I don't know what to tell you! The author did his research on the subject and he obviously worked with whatever findings he could
May 05, 2016 rated it liked it
In many ways this book is a 4, but it does need some editing and proofing as there is a fair amount of repetition. Also there were several errors in the book which always makes me wonder about the rest of the information given. The most obvious error occurred on page 3 in the introduction where the author states that John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were Quakers. That is incorrect, they were Unitarians.
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and startling. I especially loved the first two thirds of the book and I am amazed at how much the author was able to learn about the slaves' lives. I didn't realize how many of these slaves we knew the names of and the quotes by the presidents in their letters about these slaves make it very real how closely everyone lived together. ...more
tiffany greene
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
The subject matter was fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about something I hadn't really taken the time to think about before. However, I didn't like the writing style of Holland, and struggled to stay focused on the subject because I was distracted by the writing. ...more
Jay Anderson
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Interesting subject matter, but difficult read.
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It surely took me awhile to get through this book. It is not exciting, and the content though well-written is exasperating. We remain so ignorant of the work that slaves did to build this nation, and our current state of affairs makes Holland's writing even more important.

He is even handed in his history telling and not hard on the presidential slave holders, instead giving them the benefit of the times in which they lived. He gently calls out their hypocrisy (and that if their wives) by descri
Tom N
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
THE INVISIBLES, by Jesse Holland, is an eye-opening chronicle of the African American slaves who lived in the White House and were owned by 10 out of the first 12 U.S. presidents. It tells of the origins of slavery in the American colonies through the Emancipation Proclamation and the American Civil War. Several of the slave-owning U.S. Presidents were very close to their favorite slaves, taking them from their personal plantations and keeping them at their sides as they did their presidential d ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting book about some interesting people. The lot of specific slaves varied widely with the habits of the "owners" as well as the circumstances or positions they held. I was horrified, but not actually surprised to learn that 10 of the first 12 American Presidents were slaveholders; that they actually used slave labor in the President's House. Little is known about most of the enslaved persons, but Holland does a good job of fleshing out the known details.

My only caveat is the amount of
marcus miller
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Readable collection of stories related to the slaves who lived in the White House, primarily through the time of Andrew Jackson. Of course, there are many slaves who lived and worked in the White House whose names were never recorded, but Holland does a nice job of describing the stories of some he has documented. Holland also looks at the first twelve Presidents, ten of whom owned slaves. Some bought and sold slaves while serving as President though they took pains to show they were using money ...more
There was some very interesting detail about presidents. In some ways the book was more about the presidents and their attitudes toward slaves than about slaves, which would be okay except that the title promised otherwise. It was disappointing to learn that Washington carefully managed his time in Philadelphia (when capitol was there) so that he and slaves were never in PA over the amount of months (6 or 9 ) that would grant the slaves their freedom. Then there was Jackson, never high on my lis ...more
Guthrie C.
Excellent book that brings to life the individuals who were subjected to the horror of slavery by US Presidents in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beyond providing an interesting history of these individuals and how they helped build our early nation, you come to understand their personalities, their families, and their relationship with slave masters. An important book for understanding some of the people who were enslaved.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Downloaded as an audio book from Audible. Was interesting to learn of some of the slaves who lived in the White House during the terms of the first 12 presidents. Not necessarily surprised but did learn how past presidents used the country’s resources (land and money) to build stables and race horses.
Renee Slahgt
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful lesson of presidential history.

Besides the stories of presidential slavery, the historical report of our nation's growth and the part of African Americans in it was an affirmation that our country has ALWAYS been multi-racial, much earlier than southern plantation history. Great read!
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an audiobook rating. I likely would have rated The Invisibles three stars as a book. Some of the stories were long with details repeated and it might not have held my attention without JD Jackson's excellent reading voice. ...more
Theresa Skopowski
Jun 10, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointed in this book. There was quite a bit of repetitive information, jumping back and forth and I didn’t feel like there was much new information regarding slavery as the author indicated there would be. I only read it in its entirety because it was a reading for my book club.
Yvette Sherman
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read

I did enjoy learning this history that's rarely talked about when you study history. At times stories were repeated which was a little annoying. However I do highly recommend this book.
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, individual-books
This book details the important part African American slaves played in the establishment of our nation. I think all Americans need to read it to truly understand what African Americans slaves did for the founding father and presidents.
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not the best-written book but the information was most interesting!
Raine KLover
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Somewhat disjointed, and at times repetitive. Still, a fascinating look into the lives of the Founding Fathers and their slaves.
Henrietta (H
Stories of slaves of US presidents. Poorly written but well worth wading through.
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Dilworth Book Club: The Invisibles 6 3 Feb 07, 2016 04:34AM  

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