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tv   Elizabeth Dowling Taylor A Slave in the White House Paul Jennings and...  CSPAN  November 29, 2015 8:00am-8:54am EST

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[captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] >> good afternoon. welcome to the library of congress. i am the director of the center for the brookings library of the congress. the center is the reading promotion arm of the library of congress. daniel boorstin helped the library of congress stimulate public interest in books and reading and literacy. we operate primarily through a couple of national networks.
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there are state centers for the book in the states, and they work with us to promote books and reading in their respective states and in particular to promote writers and writing care at we also have national reading promotion partners, many nonprofit groups and government organizations we also worked with to promote books and reading. we are a major component in the book festival. i hope many of you know about it and help attended in the past. you this will be on the national mall from the 22nd two the 23rd. there delighted to expand festival in the last year and that will continue. there more -- there are more seats upfront if you would like. plenty of room. we are featuring another kind of
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way we promote books and reading. love to give book talks at the library of congress to make a couple of points. a lot of the research at the library of congress and many in a bookaries result in the printed word. to featuresed authors and their books that have a special relationship with the library. you will learn much of the work for beth taylor's books was done here at the library. we also help sponsor project books that come out of long-term library of congress efforts. so we are very pleased to have you here. there is really a listing of future talks. areyone of our talks supported by one of the divisions of the library of
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congress. we are grateful to the manuscript division for being the cosponsor. today's talks will be found by c-span and the library of congress. more than 200 of our talks are available on the library of congress's website. can get a snapshot of current literature and writing in the united states not only through the books and beyond talks on our website but also through the national book festival programming. and since the book festival was created in 2001, we have accumulated more than 700 30-minute or 45-minute talks from different writers, and so i hope you take advantage of that. it's really a snapshot of the importance of american writing that's growing each year, and now we're, lo and behold, we're going to go into our second decade of national book festival and books and beyond talks.
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because today's talk is being filmed, i urge you to turn off all things electronic. we will have a, once our speaker is introduced, you will hear from her. there, there are more seats up front, please, if you want to come on up. and then there will be a session, about a 20-minute session of questions and answers, and then there will be a book signing. so books are for sale at the special library of congress discount at the back of the room, and you also can pick up a schedule for future talks in the, ahead. in the question-and-answer period, we will be filming, not that part of it for c-span as well, and i'm going to ask people to come up to the microphone, but i also want to tell you that by asking a question and participating, you're also giving the library of congress permission and c-span permission to use your
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image and your wonderful questions as part of our programming while you wait for the wonderful answers from our speaker. to introduce beth, i'm, we're really pleased to introduce julie miller, who, since june 2009, has been, served as the specialist in american, early american history in the manuscript division, and i also want to add that shortly after julie joined our staff, she spoke in our books and beyond series about her new book, "abandoned: foundlings in 19th century new york city". so you can see that you have authors and readers coming at you from all angles when you come to a books and beyond talk. i'd like now to turn this over to julie miller. let's give her a hand. julie? [applause]
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julie miller: thank you. i paid him to say that. our speaker today, beth taylor, has a doctorate from the university of california at berkeley. she's been a, the director of interpretation at monticello, thomas jefferson's house; the director of education at montpelier, james madison's house; and a fellow at the virginia foundation for the humanities, and now she's the author of this book, "a slave in the white house: paul jennings and the madisons", and i might add that she's also appeared on the "daily show", which some of you may be interested in seeing. i met beth when she came to do research in the manuscript division here at the library, and in the reading room, beth did something very important. she realized that the library's collections of papers of leading colonial and national figures contained papers and, and information about people who were not those people, but other people, the people who surrounded them, and very often, those people were slaves. that information takes the form of, men, mentions in letters, journals, and farm records, but
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sometimes it consists of letters written by the slaves themselves, and this was the case of paul jennings, the paul jennings letters that beth found in the dolly madison papers. often, documents, it's interesting to realize that documents like these survive very often really just because they were swept up into the papers of prominent people, people who were recognized for being prominent. and in some cases, we can assume that these records are the only written records of these lives. so they're really very valuable things that we more or less incidentally have in the manuscript division. beth's accomplishment in this book is that she was able to excavate the story of one of these lives, the story of paul jennings. and now i'm very proud to introduce beth taylor. [applause] elizabeth dowling taylor: well, i thank john and julie for having me today. i thank all of you for turning out. "a slave in the white house: paul jennings and the madisons" was a great labor of love.
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i spent three years researching the book and a year writing it. i have a, a fondness for good narrative non-fiction, and a lot of times if i read journalistic pieces, i enjoy when they begin with an extended anecdotal lead. so i adapted that approach in my book, and each chapter starts with what we might call a vignette, and i really labored over the details. if i give the weather, it's documented. if i say james madison's overcoat was olive, i have an eyewitness and so on. so i thought what i might do today is intersperse my comments with reading excerpts from some of these vignettes. they all place jennings at or near a doorway or some kind of opening. in one case, it's the hatch of a ship, and in this first one, it's an open grave. "on or about 28 february 1801, montpelier, the madison plantation in orange county, virginia.
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the old master died in the dullness of february. on their way to the burial in the family graveyard, the house servants passed by the slave graveyard, where most of them expected to be buried some day. it was cold, and they walked on, passing between the fallow tobacco fields to the east and the original homestead to the west. the madison family graveyard was located in the backyard of this first home site, the main dwelling long burned to the ground and supplanted by the georgian mansion whence they had started their third mile informal procession. once the household was circled around the open grave, the house servants raised expectant eyes
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to the new master of montpelier, james madison, jr., standing next to his mother, nelly. there was this day at montpelier another mother and son present. the mother's name is unknown. the name of the toddler at her skirts was paul jennings. she perhaps held the little boy's hand, hoping not to transmit her anxiety over what might happen next, for the death of a master was always a time of tension for his enslaved people. they would have little control over decisions about their futures, including the fates of their nearest family members." well, james madison, jr. became the fourth president of the united states. paul jennings' journey from slavery to freedom would play out in the highest circles of ideas and power - the white house. james madison's study. and in freedom, he would author
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as decreed by the white house historical association the first white house memoir, and its full text is included as an appendix in "a slave in the white house". it was my familiarity with this memoir that first drew me to jennings' story. it is titled, "a colored man's reminiscences of james madison", and as that title implies, it is more about the so-called great man than it is about the author himself, but my interest was in jennings. so i set out to discover elements of his biography, uncover the circumstances behind the publication of the memoir in 1865, and track down and interview living direct descendents. paul was only ten when he came to washington in 1809, the first year of the madison administration. he was chosen from among 100 montpelier slaves as just a, oh, two or three to be part of the white house domestic staff, and he found washington to be dreary as, indeed, it was. not only because he was likely
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homesick but because this was a planned city, and at that time, existed very much more on paper than it did on the ground. but i think that soon enough, paul realized that he was at the start of a great adventure. he would be a footman in the president's house for eight years. he would come of age in washington, age 10 to age 18, and in the process, he would be an important witness to history in the making. "thirty-one may 1809. the first of dolly madison's white house drawing rooms. it was a rainy wednesday.
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paul jennings in his footmen's livery likely had the initial duty of meeting guests at the north entrance with an umbrella. there was no portico then for protection from the elements. tonight was the first of what would become dolly madison's legendary drawing rooms with the presidential mansion open for everyone who was properly introduced. more gentlemen than ladies attended this premiere night as would be expected in a town with many government men in residence without their families. had more ladies been present, dolly would still have stood apart, not because she was seated on a platform as martha washington had been at her courtly receptions, but because of the charming intertwining of her personality and dress. jennings himself later described some of her ensembles: fabrics
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of purple velvet and white satin, always with turbans of the finest materials and trimmed to match. president madison, happy to leave the limelight to his wife, was attired as usual in the old style, britches and powdered hair. paul had no way of knowing that he would one day serve as madison's valet and be responsible for his clothes and his queue. as the guests mingled among the rooms, servants threaded through them with trays of refreshments. wine, punch, coffee, ice cream, etc. were liberally served jennings recalled. young jennings may have been among the servers that first night, but more likely was a runner, acting on the steward's commands to replenish this from the pantry or tote that up from the cellars. it was both a frightening and exhilarating experience. the carriage, music, mirrors, and chandeliers, the sophisticated and political conversation. paul, the observer.
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paul, the listener, received an eyeful and an earful this evening." as i began my research, i prepared a word document headed "what was paul jennings like", and i added to it as i went along, and two characteristics, among others, became clear. he was a good listener, and he was a good networker, two traits that serve anyone, well, who's interested in getting ahead. i interpret jennings' life as a deliberate, courageous, and successful pursuit of the right to rise, which really is the most american of, of promises, isn't it? jennings, after his eight years in washington, thought about running away instead of returning to the plantation with the madisons. the evidence for this is a letter in the madison papers
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written by jefferson's nephew warning him that there was such a rumor, and i visualize jennings, his last window of opportunity to act, and thinking not only about whether he had the nerve to chance an illegal run and perhaps be caught and punished, but realizing also that that virginia plantation was his home, too. could he leave the scene of his boyhood, the home of his mother, never to return? it's not as if he could have said, well, if i don't make it back this christmas, i'll be sure to do that next christmas. this would be forever. and what we know is that in the event jennings, indeed, returned to virginia, and he was promoted, if you will, to the position of james madison's personal attendant or body servant, and as such, as the constant servant in madison's study, he was present as madison received a queue of notables in that room, from thomas jefferson to andrew jackson, henry clay, daniel webster, and very many
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young men of learning. the madisons' niece wrote that jennings sighed for freedom, was enamored with freedom. well, you bet. those young men of learning, they would rhapsodize about spending one evening listening to the father of the constitution hold forth. jennings, like part of the wallpaper, was present for hundreds of such discourses. and in the book, i developed the thesis that jennings was able to absorb the theoretical underpinnings that would support his innate yearning for freedom and allow him to identify it as a natural right of man. "late february 1837.
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jennings prepares the madison city house in washington for future use by the widow dolly madison. paul jennings had returned to lafayette square for the first time in 20 years. james madison died the previous summer, and mistress dolly decided she would make use of her city house in washington and sent jennings ahead to ready the dwelling. it was still february, but in anticipation of a new administration, already the town noise was gathering along with that of spring's first frogs.
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the atmosphere must have reminded jennings of james madison's inauguration 28 years earlier. jennings took stock of a much altered lafayette square. a block from the madison house, the restored white house now sported porticos at both the north and south front. half the building's charred and weakened exterior walls had been rebuilt, in the course of which the workmen dug out the
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partially preserved dinner display that jennings had prepared the day the british torched the mansion in august 1814. the george washington portrait had long ago been retrieved from the maryland farm house where it had safely rested after the fire and returned to the white house. as for jennings himself, his young manhood was behind him, and he was still a slave. nevertheless, now a husband and father, he led a life of meaning and took advantage of opportunities as they came up. jennings' rise would always require unremitting resistance against legal, social, and psychological impediments. the contrast with dolly's son is striking. payne todd hopelessly alcoholic, and with neither occupation nor spouse, seemed to lack purpose altogether. of course, one could say that payne took advantage of his situation, too. he certainly had taken advantage of his mother and step-father time and again, slowly draining their finances and good will." well, as you know, every presidential family needs an embarrassing ne'er do well. [laughter] elizabeth dowling taylor: and in this case, it was dolly's son from her first marriage, payne todd, and payne beautifully
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filled out the role for me in the arc of my story as foil to paul jennings. here, he had every advantage in life and squandered everyone. jennings had no advantage in life, and, yet, even while still a slave managed to carve out a life of meaning for himself. now, when james madison died, jennings was disappointed to learn that he had not been freed as he had reason to expect. he was then given to understand that madison had made an agreement with his widow that she would free all the montpelier slaves, all the 100 slaves. well, that certainly wasn't going to happen. she and her son began selling slaves right away, although in her 1841 will, she did have a term that would free jennings at her death, the only slave so treated. but he wasn't so sure about that as time went by. he got on her bad side. now, he's back in washington, but his wife and his children are owned by another master in virginia, a neighbor of madison's. so not only had he not lived with them up until now, visited
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with them on the slaves' one traditional day off each week, sunday, but now he was altogether geographically separated from them. dolly, at this time, was hiring him out to president james polk. so jennings had a second white house experience beginning in 1845, and at this point, the president and his mistress had given him permission to go back to virginia for a visit with his family, but he had stayed longer than dolly approved of, and she wrote to her son and said that he, paul, will lose the best place and his mistress' convenient resources. well, i want to stop with that story for a second because i want to tell you about my research at the library of congress and how it was here that i got my first hints as to paul's family. and i think it's an interesting episode because it illustrates undertaking historical research in this day and age and a likely path for it. often starts, as it did for this particular aspect, with google books.
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[laughter] elizabeth dowling taylor: and google books, you know, you never know what you're going to get because you put in different combinations of key words, and you see what comes up, and at one point, even though i thought, certainly, i had tried this many times before, i discovered that here in the manuscript division of the library of congress was a 29-page manuscript titled "paul jennings and his times". well, i was just so excited. at this point, i was director of education at montpelier but thought, well, when saturday comes, i'll be going up to washington. let me call ahead and make sure they really do have this item and can share it with me on saturday.
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so i called up and someone in the manuscript division, and i must say, everyone who works here has always assisted me with a great thoroughness and kindness, and i really, really appreciate that. and such was the case with this gentleman on the phone who said, well, he, he looked it up. he went away. he came back. he said, "do you have a, let me, let me look a little bit more. do you have another minute to hang on the phone?" and i said i will be happy to hang on the phone and have you read me all 29 pages of this manuscript so that's no problem. [laughter] elizabeth dowling taylor: but anyway, so he said, "yes, indeed. we have it," and i went up then on saturday, and the fellow who was working that day in the manuscript division, i showed
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him the printout from google books, and he was surprised to see that what had been digitized on google books was the actual handbook of manuscripts in the library of congress. he had pulled out his copy, and it was like the bible, you know, from beneath his desk, and he did display a certain, certain aspect of claiming this as their special document. don't tell me now anybody can get their hands on this from google books. but anyway, once he brought forth the manuscript, i was just beside myself because right in the first page, i learned, like, five new facts about paul jennings' biography. this was where i first learned that he had a wife named fannie gordon, and you see, i also learned for the first time about daniel murray. daniel murray was the first african american assistant librarian of congress, and he
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had been preparing a monumental but never published biographical encyclopedia of the colored race, prominent african americans up to his time, and he included paul jennings among them because he was familiar with his having authored "a colored man's reminiscences of james madison". and in 1901 he had interviewed paul jennings' only surviving child at that point, franklin jennings, and he had put together some notes. so i got to see both on microfilm some of the notes that murray had put together as well as this opening page of this, this manuscript "paul jennings and his times". and what was interesting and what is kind of part and parcel of research so often is that according to murray, franklin had said that his mother was
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lady's maid to the sister of general, eventually president zachary taylor. well, i knew that wasn't possible because i was familiar with the taylor family, no relation, of orange county, virginia, and i knew that zachary taylor was born in that area but that his immediate family had quickly moved on to kentucky. so that timing just wouldn't work out, but what it gave me was the hint that it was some mistress in the taylor family, and, indeed, it was, and, and later i was able to verify that, you know, six ways to sunday through the orange county courthouse records and through other records at the national archives and so on.
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but that was really one among many exciting days that i spent at the library of congress. now, the rest of the story, then. so paul jennings needs his freedom now. you see what actually happened about this time is that his wife died. so now his children back in orange are motherless, the youngest just two years old. this is when he went to senator daniel webster for help. now, remember that i said he was a good networker, and you know that it helps to have acquaintances in high places,
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even as a slave. and webster came to jennings' rescue, and he advanced his purchase price, and he wasn't a rich man. he struck a deal with jennings whereby jennings would work in his household and pay that purchase price back at the rate of eight dollars a month. so, finally, at the age of 48, paul jennings became a free man. and here is one thing he got involved with that very first full year of freedom. "night, saturday, 15 april 1848. a landing near the seventh street wharf, washington city. it was a moonless night, and that was an advantage for the activity at the wharf was highly illegal. paul jennings played a role in the operations that led to this action, and is thought to have been the black man silently observing the scene in the shadows, noticed by ship captain daniel drayton. drayton approached this witness, who told him that he knew what was going on, but that the captain need have no apprehension on his account.
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before the night was over, 77 enslaved men, women, and children would board a schooner named pearl, anchored at the edge of the potomac river and stow themselves under the hatch. before the new day dawned, they would be on their way to freedom in the north. among the individuals hidden in the haul was dolly madison's runaway slave ellen stuart. jennings had likely escorted the 15-year-old girl to the dock, a mile or so south of pennsylvania avenue, and watched her board the 54-ton schooner. it may well have been ellen's desperate need for flight that precipitated jennings' own involvement in the slave escape venture. one day, approximately five months earlier, dolly had called ellen to the parlor of the lafayette square house, nominally for an errand, but
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really to "show her to a georgian" as the colored people called the slave drivers. after ellen was dismissed, dolly arranged with the trader to pick up the girl at the pump in the public square where she would send her at a prearranged time under the rouse of fetching water, but ellen got wind of the maneuver and dashed across lafayette square and escaped into the bustle of the city. now, as i say, it impresses me that jennings would risk his hard-won status as a free man by helping others try to achieve that same condition. this was not to be. jennings was one of the black operatives who worked with white northern abolitionists to plot this escape attempt out. it was a part of the underground railroad, and it turned out to be the largest attempt at slave escape ever in american history.
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the pearl left the harbor but met with light winds on the potomac. that slowed it down. got to the chesapeake, and then the winds were too heavy to enter the bay. still, they might have made it to freedom in the north but for a turncoat in the black community back in washington, who informed on them. that got the owners on their tail sooner instead of later. they caught up with them and hauled the pearl back to washington, and those slaves aboard faced a fate they most dreaded, which was sale to the deep south and permanent separation from home and family. now, another thing that paul jennings did soon after he achieved his freedom was to march himself down to the photographer's studio and sit for his daguerreotype. here he is on the cover, and let me tell you how i discovered this image.
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it is the only known likeness of any montpelier slave. i worked to seek out jennings' direct descendents, and i had tips to the living direct descendents of two of jennings' children but none for his son franklin. when i finally cracked that line, it led me to sylvia jennings alexander. she was 93 years old when i had the privilege of meeting her, and she was the keeper of the jennings family oral traditions, and on her living wall was this likeness of paul jennings. mrs. alexander lived another year and a half after i met her, and though she had physical maladies when i first met her, her mind was sharp as a tack, and her memories that she learned from her grandfather franklin, franklin lived to be 90. and so she heard right from franklin many of the family stories that go back to slavery days, and she very much enriched my story and also my own personal experience.
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by the way, she shared many family photographs with me, and "a slave in the white house" has over 20 photographs and maps and other graphics, but there were many more that couldn't go into the book, and i hope that you will check out the paul jennings website where many of them have been posted. it's but back to this likeness, it didn't take me too long to compare it with the statute of james madison that is here in the madison building of the library of congress, and that,
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of course, is because madison, even as you see jennings here, holds a book in his right hand. so james madison was always the statesman with a book under one arm, and it's clear that jennings was proud of his literacy, that he is posing with the prop of his choice, a book. well, here's the last vignette excerpt that i'll read. "thirty-one october 1854. l and 18th streets, northwest washington. paul and desdimona jennings appreciated their new home. it was a small house on a small piece of ground, but of great significance to them. carpenter john james had owned lot 23 in square 107, and having divided the land into three parcels, he built three wood-frame houses facing l street. each parcel had about 13 feet, 4 inches fronting l street and ran from 84 to 115 feet back to a diagonal alley. jennings purchased the easternmost house for $1,000. he had saved $400 of the purchase price, a substantial
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down payment. earlier on this day, a month after the sale, husband and wife had been at the washington clerk's office where each signed a document borrowing the $600 balance. that is, paul signed; desdimona," that's jennings' second wife, "applied her mark acknowledging the same as her husband, namely that if their payments were not made, the property would be forfeited. the arrangement specified quarterly installments of $100 plus interest. accumulating the down payment could not have been easy, and coming up with home, one hundred dollars every three months would not be either. washington was one of the most expensive cities in the world. pension office clerks earning nine to $1,800 annually were hard pressed to support their families. jennings' salary was $400. the debt would be satisfied in may 1856, and paul jennings, a man legally held as property for 48 years, would own his piece of land and modest house free and clear for himself and his heirs forever. there was just a scattering of houses in the area. the city's established finer residences ran from capitol hill to the white house in a small
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section north and west from there. though it was only a few blocks further on, paul and desdemona's new neighborhood was in the midst of marsh and cow pasture, countryside where rabbits could be shot and blackberries and huckleberries grew in season." well, i'm sure most of you know that spot, l and 18th streets, northwest, and if you're book lovers, you will remember that that's where until not too long ago there was a borders books. and i would go there and go sit in the cafe, get a coffee, and think, i think i could be sitting at paul jennings' kitchen table right now. well, what's interesting, too, is that many of the places where jennings either lived and/or worked are still extant in washington. the winder building and the patent office building where he worked for the department of the interior, the dolly madison house, the octagon which was the first of the temporary white houses after the white house burned, and, of course, the, the white house itself.
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well, before we get to questions and answers, i want to make a couple of comments on paul jennings' legacy. james madison wrote of liberty and learning leaning on each other for their mutual and surest support. like madison, jennings applied his learning in the service of liberty. he secured his freedom and his family's future as an intrepid anti-slavery activist. he forged passes and free papers for slaves, was an operative in a major attempt at slave escape, and he raised funds for slaves in peril by helping, thus, helping to purchase them from their masters. he's, his is a unique story, but it's also important to
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appreciate that at the same time, he is representative of many, many african americans of his time whose stories may never be known, but who, like him, overcame a barrage of obstacles in pursuit of the right to rise. and i will close by referring back to the library of congress and the great good that they do here in preserving the written word. you know, when jennings' authored that first white house memoir, it was a private printing. i don't believe there were more than 150 to 200 copies. and so, really, it's quite remarkable that it survived at all and wasn't altogether just obscured and lost over the years.
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and in part, we, we do have daniel murray to thank for that because that assistant librarian of congress helped put together an exposition in 1900 on the works of negro authors, and that included paul jennings. you know, this is in contrast to, let's say, solomon northup's, "twelve years a slave". there were 8,000 copies printed and sold in just the first month when it came out in 1853 and many thousands and thousands to follow. so i'm grateful to daniel murray and to the library of congress that jennings' memoir is still with us, and thank you for your preserving our heritage of the word, and i thank all of you for your kind attention. [applause] john cole: well, we are grateful
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to beth. of course, not only for the research that went into this story, but also to highlighting a little bit of the library of congress' own history and our own story as part of the american story. we're not done yet. we have a question and answer period to go. i did not mention deliberately that this discussion also can continue on facebook. the center for the book has a books and beyond facebook page where you can learn about past talks and contribute your own remarks to the ongoing discussion that we're going,
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about to start now. i'd like to ask for those of you who have questions for beth to please come to the microphone in the middle and ask your question. i also will be able to assure you that we have until 1:00 until the signing starts. so let's start with one more round of applause to our excellent speaker today, beth - [applause] john cole: and will someone take the first step? well, if not, i will ask the first question, and then i expect others to come up and follow. i have an easy question. what was it like to be on the jon stewart show? [laughter] john cole: what kind of preparation did you do mentally before you took that first step? thank you. elizabeth dowling taylor: well, you know, it was funny because my, the publicist at my publishers landed this gig, and i didn't know it until one evening when i got back to my house in virginia, having been up here in washington, picking up my son, who's a college student at american university, bringing him back home for the christmas holidays, and when i got back, there were six
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telephone messages, 20 e-mails. where are you? you've been booked on the jon stewart show. we want to make your travel arrangements. and, you know, naturally my son, being 21, is a prime jon stewart fan, and i sat him down. i said, "i know you are not going to believe this, but i'm going to be a guest on the jon stewart show." and then since it was his christmas vacation, he, first of all, coached me asking me questions and as if i was on the show for the, that period of two weeks, and i tried to get a grip on my nerves, which i finally did just the afternoon of that, of the taping that evening. so that when i did go over to the studio, that meant that the experience could be fun for me, as, indeed, it was. the entire thing was just one of the most privileged and enjoyable experiences i've ever
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had. and, of course, jon stewart is my new best friend because i do feel like i have him to thank for the vigorous book sales. >> hello. i'm just wondering if you actually have been able to get a sense of paul jennings personality and if it's what you set out to do when you went on the journey of the book? elizabeth dowling taylor: well -- john cole: could you repeat the question? elizabeth dowling taylor: oh, the question was what sense i got of paul jennings' personality. and, yes, i did get a good sense, i feel, as time went by. and i feel there were a couple of sides to him. he was a intelligent, courteous, well-bred - these are all descriptions that would come up.
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he played the violin. he liked to read. he was steady and precise. he was patriotic. he had another side where, that he was especially able to express in freedom, and i feel like he was a man about town in washington. he married three times, the last time at age 70. sylvia jennings alexander, his great-granddaughter said that her father, franklin, described him as a jim dandy. [laughter] elizabeth dowling taylor: in other words, he thought that he was hot stuff at times, and he said that if he had any extra money, he'd buy fine kidskin shoes, for example. and i think about how he watched washington change, coming here in 1809 first as a ten-year-old boy and then living and dying in northwest washington, dying at the age of 75. i mean, even just take one thing like the u.s. capitol and imagine how he saw it evolve over the years, remodeled, burned by the british, and then finally during the civil war coming to its, its prominence as it looks today. although he never did see the washington monument completed. that rose to one third of its
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planned height, and then for 25 years remained a stub. so he never saw that in its final form. >> i was about to ask how long it took him to save up for his freedom and how long did he get a chance to enjoy that freedom? elizabeth dowling taylor: well, let me say a little bit more about his life in freedom. now, remember, daniel webster advanced his purchase price, and so it would have taken him close to a couple of years to pay that back at the rate of eight dollars a month, and he continued to work for webster for about four years, but then he decided, apparently, that he wanted another kind of job. and remember i said that he was a good networker. and so what he did was get a letter of recommendation from daniel webster. i found the original in the papers of alfred chapman. well, who's alfred chapman? he's from orange county where, and he's a cousin, he was a cousin of madison's, but he was living in washington at this time, working as a clerk in the department of the interior, and next thing you know, jennings
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gets a job in the department of the interior. so it's easy for me to imagine him taking this letter of recommendation that webster wrote for him, and it's jennings name, paul jennings on the envelope, but then handing it over to his contact, working those connections, alfred chapman, who gets him a job in the same department. and he had a steady but low-level government job, and this was about the most that, these were coveted among black, freed black men and about the highest that a black man at that time might hope to aspire to in terms of a livelihood. so he worked in the pension office, which was under the department of the interior for at least 15 years. >> hello. what a fascinating project. i was wondering what about it
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compelled you to want to tell the story of paul jennings and bring it forward? elizabeth dowling taylor: well, you know, i was director of, well, first of all, i should say i worked at monticello and montpelier for a combination of 22 years, and i saw the opportunity to make a small contribution by telling a fuller story of the african american heritage at these sites. wherever slavery existed, of course, it's important to tell the story, but at these two presidential plantations, it's all the more poignant and all the more important to do so. so i had that ongoing interest, and then paul jennings became the focus of my study because of this memoir. i thought, you know, my question, it's, it's a precious document, and it's quite interesting, and, yet, when you
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finish it, you feel like saying, but what about you, paul jennings? i wish you had included more about yourself, and the visitors who came to montpelier were interested, too. originally, i just, you, and you know this, the memoirs, you can find the text online, but they've never come out in a new edition since 1865, and at first, i thought, well, i'll, i'll bring that out, the "reminiscences" themselves and do a biographical essay with them perhaps, and then i just got more ambitious from there until it turned into a full-length book. >> you mentioned that he died at the age of 75. where is he buried? elizabeth dowling taylor: well, i'll tell you that story. he was buried in harmony cemetery, which is southeast, and, and that was ok except that as the years went by, that
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burial ground became very much overrun with mead, with weeds and then the metro itself encroached on it, and as some of you may know, the burials there were dug up and reinterred in maryland except, i don't know if there were other cases, but paul jennings' remains never made the trip. mrs. alexander, sylvia jennings alexander, paul jennings' great-granddaughter, remembered her cousin pauline crying, "they've lost grandpapa. they've lost grandpapa." and so although we know initially he was buried in harmony cemetery, just where his remains are at this moment are unknown.
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john cole: when i first met beth, she was still on monticello, and she recalled the story to me a little earlier. i hadn't seen her for a number of years. knew she was working on this book, and she came wandering down the hall about an hour ago before this talk, and i knew it had to be beth because she was carrying kind of a decrepit but important bag to the center for the book. it was the old center for the book bag -- [laughter] john cole: -- that i had given her more than, how many years ago -- elizabeth dowling taylor: oh, about twelve years ago -- john cole: twelve years ago, and i said that must be beth, but i better check it out, and then i saw the condition of the bag, and i said, well, that speaks well for the durability and quality of our products here at the center for the book. so in addition to thanking her and telling you that we would like you now to line up over
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here for the book signing and mo, have a line come along that wall, i would like to present beth with -- [laughter] john cole: -- a brand-new bag. [laughter] it is in great shape. never been used. i'll leave, i will not take this one back, though. elizabeth dowling taylor: sentimental value. john cole: sentimental value, but join me for one more time in thanking beth for a wonderful talk. [applause] elizabeth dowling taylor: thank you, john. i appreciate this. [applause] >> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> in november, 1945, were crimes trials began in the warm berg, germany. for major nazi figures. involves 24 trial
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nazi defendants accused of killing more than one million people. for the 70th anniversary at the nurnberg trial, c-span is airing an oral interview with benjamin prosecutor.hief he immigrated to america when he was an immigrant and enlisted in the u.s. army after earning his -- degree and later was his assigned to set up a branch. in part three of his interview, he discusses the aftermath of the war crimes trial and how that you wish committee fought to achieve lost property for the conference, established in 1951. the mission of the conference is to secure a small measure of justice for the victims of not the last part of the interview


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