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Frederick Douglass, c. 1870.

National Archives

Frederick Douglass was one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement and advised Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War on issues related to emancipation and the treatment of black troops. In 1866, Douglass, at the head of a delegation, called on President Andrew Johnson in the East Room and appealed for his support to back voting rights for black men. Johnson refused to use his dwindling political capital to assist African Americans. In 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes made Douglass a marshal of the District of Columbia, but he would not allow him to present guests to the president, as had been the custom. However, Douglass did serve as the master of ceremonies when black entertainers performed at the White House. Douglass was appointed American consul general to Haiti in 1889. He was the most famous African American of the 19th century and is regarded as the father of the civil rights movement. Yet, no matter how famous or accomplished, many decades passed before blacks would be invited to the White House for social and state functions.

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: William Seale, The President’s House, White House Historical Association, 1986; Henry Chase, "Memorable Visitors: Classic White House Encounters," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 26-33.

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