Brick by Brick, written by Charles R. Smith Jr. and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Brick by BrickBrick by Brick

Written by Charles R. Smith Jr.

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper


The White House was built brick by brick by numerous workers, including many who were slaves.


In 1792 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue did not exist; the area was a forest and needed to be cleared in order to build a suitable presidential residence. Many workers were employed from immigrants who had chosen to come to America to free slaves, who were brought here against their will. Without the advantage of modern machinery, the project soon required more workers. The government offered slave owners from Virginia and Maryland five dollars a month to “rent out” their slaves. The slaves worked from dawn to dusk, their hands blistered and raw as they chiseled, carved or sawed under the blazing sun though their hard-earned wages went directly to the owners. Later, when workers were needed for the interior of the White House, skilled artisans taught many slaves the advanced skills of cabinet making or finer woodwork. Those slaves received pay and many saved their wages to buy their freedom.


Multi-award winners, Smith and Cooper, collaborated to give voice to this aspect of slavery that is seldom, if ever, addressed in homes or schools. Author Smith’s prose tells the slaves’ stories with tender respect. Illustrator Cooper’s hauntingly beautiful images focus on the slaves’ hands and faces to add a deeply emotional context to the story. “Brick by Brick” will make a great addition to any home or classroom library.

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