The narrative of America’s deplorable past has been changed in Hollywood films, but a children’s book has gone even further to suggest the slaves the nation’s first president owned were proud to serve him.
The Scholastic book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, tells the “true” story of a slave named Hercules who was the head chef to George Washington.
Hercules and his daughter Delia are troubled when they find out the key ingredient to the president’s birthday cake (sugar) is missing. Delia and her father go on a journey throughout town to find the sugar and make the best cake possible for the president.
Ramin Ganeshram, a former journalist for The New York Times and Forbes, penned the book. Backlash ensued over the depiction that slaves were thrilled to be held against their will.
Ganeshram explained her take on Hercules’ legacy was to show the bittersweet side of slavery. She notes many slaves took pride in the high-ranking roles they were given by their masters, and to ignore their efforts would be problematic to their remembrance.
“It is the historical record—not my opinion—that shows that enslaved people who received “status” positions were proud of these positions—and made use of the “perks” of those positions,” Ganeshram said. “In a modern sense, many of us don’t like to consider this, fearing that if we deviate from the narrative of constant-cruelty we diminish the horror of slavery. But if we chose to only focus on those who fit that singular viewpoint, we run the risk of erasing those, like Chef Hercules, who were remarkable, talented, and resourceful enough to use any and every skill to their own advantage.”
Historians recall Hercules’ popularity as a respected chef who was disgusted with his position. On Washington’s 65 birthday, Hercules ran away after being separated from his family. Slaves were able to free themselves from their masters under a law in Pennsylvania, but Washington sought loopholes that would allow him to keep his.
Ten years before Washington brought Hercules to Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Gradual Abolition Act, a law that allowed all slaves owned by Pennsylvania residents the ability to free themselves after six months of living in the state. Members of Congress were exempt, but the law made no mention of members of the Executive or Judicial branches of government, which wouldn’t be created until 1788. When George Washington became a Pennsylvania resident, he was confronted by a legal imperative to free his slaves. Technically speaking, he had to free them all after six months of labor in Philadelphia, but of course, he wasn’t keen on letting them go.
After making a weak argument that he wasn’t a real Philly resident because his job necessitated his living there, Washington gave up on trying to wriggle out of his legal obligation and broke the law to keep Hercules and Delia enslaved.
These details aren’t included in the book. Instead, the story ends with a recipe for “Martha Washington’s Great Cake” and the family happy to present a well-made treat to the president.
Since last year, parents and students have called out companies for their depictions of African-American and Native Americans in the history books. One textbook referred to slaves as “migrant workers” who were brought from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade and recently, residents of Whitesboro, New York voted to keep their seal of a White man strangling an Indian man as the official letterhead of the town.
SOURCE: Fusion | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Twitter