In the midst of the Civil War, African Americans sought to dismantle customary practices of white supremacy in Washington, DC, by attending public ceremonies and, in particular, receptions at the White House. In this essay I draw attention to this important but often overlooked arena of antiracist struggle while also offering fresh insights into the racial policies of the Lincoln administration. Drawing on intensive research in contemporary newspapers and other sources, I reread familiar texts including Frederick Douglass’s Life and Times and Elizabeth Keckly’s Behind the Scenes in the White House. The essay argues that African Americans’ efforts to attend White House social functions were far from trivial; they represented African Americans’ desire to fashion a world in which race was not a barrier to upward mobility, and they engendered negative responses from white people—even Republican allies—that would resonate far into the future.


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pp. 1-22
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