By Scotty Reid – Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a leader in print and digital educational materials for pre-K to grade 12. The American-based publisher was taken to task by critics for publishing a book depicting enslaved victims of George Washington as happy and in a celebratory mood as they baked a cake for the despicable first President of the USA. However, the authors, two black women, Ramin Ganeshram and Vanessa Brantly-Newton have largely escaped scrutiny for their decision to put together such a horrendous book for children.
Scholastic has pulled the children’s book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” which was released on January 5, 2016 after it was criticized for being “highly problematic”. The book contains illustrations featuring the smiling faces of Washington’s enslaved head cook Hercules and one of his enslaved daughters, Delia who is the narrator of the story.
There are many problems with the book but most problematic is the fact it was written by two Black women born in the United States. The book, which was written for children, whether it is intended for white or non-white children is not clear but it is a fictional account based on real historical characters who suffered largely in silence in the shadow of the vile aristocratic Washington. The book is akin to educational publisher McGraw-Hill in one of its recent text books referred to victims of the Trans-Atlantic human trafficking business as “immigrants”.
The book displays the main characters as happy, smiling Black people apparently content in their condition of slavery imposed by one of the greatest racist hypocrites this country has ever known. Washington was only surpassed in his wickedness by another so-called founding father in Thomas Jefferson who repeatedly raped the enslaved Black half-sister of his wife whom he purchased from her father. Writers and historians have also whitewashed and romanticized the enslaver/enslaved relationship between Sally Hemings and the adulterous Thomas Jefferson.
First, Hercules was a culinary master and not a baker and never baked cakes according to research. Therefore, it is highly doubtful the enslaved man would bake a birthday cake for George Washington let alone be happy about the task. It was more likely Hercules cursed the day Washington was born and probably spat in the daily food he prepared for his captor and his guests. It was his son Richmond that worked with Hercules in the Presidents House kitchen and not his daughter Delia.
The plot of the story centers around Hercules trying to scrape together ingredients for a birthday cake for the first President and trying to determine if he can bake a cake without sugar. It is only after eight pages in does the writer reveal that Hercules is in fact a “slave” and the story does nothing to convey the full meaning of the word. The story mentions that Hercules was well dressed, liked entertainment and wandered the streets of Philadelphia at times.
The story through the illustrations in the book continue to show a smiling happy Hercules which many people find disturbing. Vanessa Brantley-Newton in her “Artist’s Note” that comes after the story states, “While slavery in America was a vast injustice, my research indicates that Hercules and the other servants in George Washington’s kitchen took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature. That is why I have depicted them as happy people. There is joy in what they have created through their intelligence and culinary talent.”
This is absurd and what research did she do that did not depend on reading what was written about the enslaved by the enslavers. Hercules certainly did not leave behind his own written memoirs as an enslaved person. Besides, many of enslaved persons would smile and grin in their enslavers faces for fear of upsetting these people who surely punished the enslaved with whippings, beatings and hard labor like Hercules ended up doing before his escape from Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation in Virginia.
The real story of Hercules is that he was one of hundreds of enslaved person’s held against their will by the vile and disgusting Washingtons. Hercules was one of the nine enslaved persons held by George Washington who were illegally rotated back and forth from Philadelphia to Mt. Vernon to keep them from residing in the city for six months, which according to the laws of Pennsylvania would then grant them the right to free themselves from their enslaver. When it was discovered that Hercules and his son Richmond were possibly plotting to free themselves, Hercules was sent back to Mt. Vernon where he was forced to do hard labor as punishment. It was from Mt. Vernon that Hercules would eventually escape his enslaver George Washington.
One expects American publishing companies to whitewash American history and it is sickening that they still are the number one sources of the fictional tale that slavery was abolished in the USA after the civil war by the great betrayer Abraham Lincoln. The Senate passed the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution on April 8, 1864, and it passed the House on January 31, 1865, mere months before Lincoln’s assassination. A reading of the 13th Amendment, which is rarely if ever published by these companies, reveals that slavery was not outright abolished and was reserved as punishment for crime and it was the legal document for not only the South but the entire country to practice a new form of slavery through a racist criminal justice system that persists to this day.
What one should not expect from Black people in the USA is for them to participate in that whitewashing and brainwashing of children about the history of the United States and its many despicable historical figures.
What is the supposed moral story of the “A Birthday Cake for George Washington”? According to Vanessa Brantly-Newton, you should be proud to be enslaved by such prominent people as Washington and even if you are only being paid a slave’s wage, to take pride in your work. You would think it was written for the prison labor force in the USA, the largest new slave population in the world and not school aged children.
It was the right decision by Scholastic to pull this book from publication and the books that did make it out to the public should be burned by those who would use this book to misinform their children about the true character of George Washington and the silly notion that people enjoyed working for their enslavers.
Shame on Ramin Ganeshram and Vanessa Brantly-Newton.
Listen to a podcast from 8 years ago with Michael Coard of Avenging The Ancestors Coalition, about efforts to honor the enslaved victims held captive in Philadelphia by George Washington.
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