Oct. 13, 1792

The payroll shows that the government paid for the work of those enslaved through those who enslaved them. Ben, Daniel and Peter were among the carpenters hired through James Hoban. Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Construction began on the White House with the laying of the cornerstone. 

Black Americans, those enslaved and free, did most of the work on the foundations and the main residence. They quarried and cut the rough stone that became the walls of the White House. Historians say they also played a role in the carpentry, carting, rafting, plastering, glazing and painting. 

At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama talked of that work, recalling “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, Black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.