Is A Birthday Cake for George Washington an appropriate depiction of slavery? Why would the authors attempt to teach kids a fabricated version of the story? As previously reported, essentially, George Washington supposedly treated Hercules like family.
Well, ironically, George Washington treated Hercules so much like “family” that he wrote a letter back to Virginia, warning the person who oversaw his prized chef, explaining that a possible father-son escape was going to happen and to be on-watch, as reports Philadelphia Inquirer. George Washington was talking about Hercules and his son, Richmond.
Yet, from an adult perspective, author Ramin Ganeshram did make an interesting, thought-provoking statement. As she gave commentary and elabortation on A Birthday Cake for George Washington, she stated as follows.
“In our modern society, we abhor holding two competing truths in our minds. It is simply too hard. How could one person enslave another and at the same time respect him? It’s difficult to fathom, but the fact remains it was true.
“We must be mindful that we don’t judge historical figures by modern viewpoints. Knowing this, we thought long and hard about each word and depiction in A Birthday Cake for George Washington.
“If you do the deep research, ferret out the facts and are true to them then you have literary authority, regardless of color or ethnicity. When you write from your singular perspective or purely from imagination and pass it off as history, then authority is not yours.”
Well, deep research suggests that Hercules escaped George Washington’s Virginia plantation on February 22, 1797 — on Washington’s birthday — after basically saying “enough is enough.” This was confirmed by Mount Vernon historian Mary V. Thompson, as stated by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
According to A Birthday Cake for George Washington‘s editor Andrea Davis Pinkney, Washington and his wife had 300 enslaved workers. And of those 300, Hercules was one of George Washington’s most highly-regarded. And if he would treat his most-highly-regarded that way, one could only imagine what the others had to endure. So, by that merit, sure. Hercules was a “happier” slave that others, while on the Philadelphia plantation. But at Mount Vernon, Virginia, George Washington had him in the fields with everyone else.
From some perspectives, certain people have rather called Washington’s personal chef an “Uncle Tom” and a “coon” — phrases which derogatorily refer to “whitewashed” African-Americans. Ironically, “whitewashed” is another derogatory phrase which refers to individuals who predominantly aspire to be of Caucasian influence. Urban Dictionary offers other various, user-generated definitions of the phrase.
However, to digress, you can see a lot of the A Birthday Cake for George Washington commentary in the following Facebook post.
So, while certainly George Washington probably enjoyed his birthday cake, that might have only been one scenario in former years. Regardless of the birthday cake or celebration, Washington’s enslaved Hercules didn’t appreciate how he was treated. History does record that he was favored, yes. However, it also records the fact that he was still in servitude and manipulated.
Moreover, contrary to the author and editor notes, Hercules didn’t seem too thrilled at George Washington and his overall deception. To have planned an escape on his owner’s birthday, it shows that there was possibly something more happening behind the scenes.
While Hercules might have enjoyed former birthdays with the president, higher income, finer clothes, it doesn’t make him a “coon” or an “Uncle Tom.” He was just looking out for his family as best that he could. That, the authors did get right.
What are your thoughts about A Birthday Cake for George Washington? Is it an age-appropriate book? Are parental concerns legit, as they pertain to “sugarcoating” slavery? Feel free to share your feelings in the comments.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images News]