Update: Bill O'Reilly responded Wednesday night to criticism that he was defending slavery when he said slaves who built the White House were "well-fed" on his Tuesday show.
“As any honest historian knows, in order to keep slaves and free laborers strong, the Washington administration provided meat, bread and other staples, also decent lodging on the grounds of the new presidential building,” The "O'Reilly Factor" host remarked. “That is a fact. Not a justification, not a defense of slavery.”
Just a day after Michelle Obama spoke about her legacy as the first black first lady of the United States, Bill O’Reilly felt the need to come on TV and defend the country’s use of slaves.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Michelle Obama said on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, “and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Although this isn’t the first time Obama has used almost the exact same phrase to highlight the possibility of progress for minorities, it was the first time she did so in a highly charged and political scene like the DNC.
In response, O’Reilly decided to glorify the aspects of slavery.
“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802,” said O’Reilly on his show Tuesday evening. “However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well.”
O’Reilly is correct that both slaves and free people worked on the construction project; what he failed to mention was that black people were the ones who endured the bulk of digging and heavy lifting — and had no voice to speak out against the injustice — and were not “well-fed” or housed in “decent lodgings,” neither of which negates the inherent evilness of slavery regardless.
When people see the White House, they usually see history, power and presidents. The mansion's roots in slavery aren't often considered, but also aren't one bit in doubt.
According to the White House History website, the planners initially wanted to import laborers from Europe but had difficulty in recruiting any — so they turned to African Americans to bear the bulk of the intensive work required to build the official residence of the U.S. president, the Capitol and other early government buildings. Many of the slaves worked at the government’s quarry in Aquia, Virginia, to carve the stone for the White House’s walls.
The fact that owners of those slaves were compensated handsomely while the slaves who did the actual work remained anonymous and forgotten says a lot about the institution of the practice — and that attitude towards slavery is still remembered by a lot of African Americans today.
I'm being 100% serous did #BillOreilly REALLY say enslaved who built White House were well fed?— MichaelaAngela Davis (@MichaelaAngelaD) July 27, 2016
It isn’t surprising O’Reilly justifies the use of slave labor by claiming they had “decent lodgings.” He has a habit of ignoring uncomfortable historical truths.