In the Shadow of Liberty: the Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis

Published by Henry Holt and Company 

Summary:  Did you know that thirteen American presidents owned enslaved people or grew up in slaveholding households?  (The last one was Woodrow Wilson, born in Virginia in 1856.)  This book profiles four of them–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson—and five of the African Americans who were enslaved by them.  These five were present at many pivotal moments of American history, including various Revolutionary War battles and the burning of the White House in 1812, yet they remained in the shadows due to their positions in life.  As the author points out in his afterword, they were more fortunate than most in that their names and stories have survived and they were all set free by the ends of their lives.  The stories of the four Presidents are equally fascinating, as their thinking about slavery evolved over the course of their lives.  Yet they all bought and sold slaves, punished them, housed them in primitive shacks, and never gave them their freedom.  The extensive research that went into this book is demonstrated in the nine pages of source notes and the four-page bibliography.  304 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  An amazing historical work, heavily illustrated with photos and drawings, with a timeline of slavery at the end of each chapter.  This should be required reading for all high school history students.

Cons:  You’ll never look at the Founding Fathers in quite the same way after reading this.

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