In her speech given Monday at the Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama chose to focus on the significance of her family being African-American and living in the White House. One powerful line in particular has gained attention worldwide. "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," said the first lady. "I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."
Obama meant for this comment to be a positive, to show the growth that our nation is capable of. While some felt her speech was moving and applauded her work, others felt that she was not focusing on the right topics. One Twitter user even said, "I think Michelle Obama mistook a speech for bad slam poetry."
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly decided to fact check this line of the FLOTUS keynote. Commenting on his show The O'Reilly Factor on Tuesday, O'Reilly said, "[the] slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government." He pointed out that the government itself had stopped hiring slave labor in 1802, but did not have any rules or regulations agains sub-contractors using slave labor. O'Reilly concluded that while yes, there were slaves working on the white house, they were working along with others as well.
Bill O'Reilly: Slaves who built White House were "well-fed and had decent lodgings"pic.twitter.com/4rWdz8ldAV
— Q. Allan Brocka (@allanbrocka) July 27, 2016
O'Reilly's comment sparked outrage, with many pointing out across social media that the slaves being "well fed" and having "decent lodging" does not change the fact that they were still slaves. He seemed to be defending the government's choices, but it also sounded to many like he was defending the practice of slavery as a whole. While he's correct that slaves were not the only ones who worked on the White House, he still made it seem okay that forced labor was utilized at all.
It's important to remember that while some slaves may have been treated better than others, there were many living in inhumane conditions that tend to be ignored in our society—and that no amount of good treatment makes up for the fact that slaves were considered property and never received payment for their work. Vox explained that while immigrants, free black people and some white people worked along with the slaves, it was mainly the slaves and black people who were forced to do most of the heavy lifting and digging. In addition, slave owners received payment and recognition, while the slaves who actually built the White House faded into the background.
Michelle Obama has not commented on his response to her speech.