The Presidency in Black and White
My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America
by April Ryan
Foreword by the Honorable Elijah Cummings
Rowman & Littlefield
176 pages, Illustrated
Book Review by Kam Williams
“[This book] gives readers a compelling behind-the-scenes look at race relations from the epicenter of American power and policy making—the White House—April Ryan’s beat since 1997. Ryan tells us what it was like for a pioneering African American female reporter to become a respected member of the White House Press Corps, one of the greatest old boy networks in the nation’s capital… With humor, grace, and determination, Ryan shares the highs and lows of a sometimes lonely battle, to keep questions of race and the lives of her inner-city listeners on the national stage.”
Excerpted from the Bookjacket
When a reporter asks Barack Obama a pointed question about race during a Presidential press conference, odds are that it’s coming from April Ryan in her capacity as the White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. For the past 18 years, this gifted black woman from Baltimore has been among the handful of seasoned journalists afforded rare access to the hallowed halls of the nation’s seat of power.
In this intimate memoir, April dedicates a chapter to each of the three Presidents she’s covered, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as several discussing the issue of race. In one entitled, “The Presidential Race Report Cards,” she gives Clinton and Obama a grade of B+ on race, while Bush only earned a C-overall, including an F for his handling of Hurricane Katrina and a D for his failure to generate jobs.
Specifically for this opus, April asked Obama to “share something you have not discussed publicly, a moment or moments you were discriminated against because of your color.” He did respond, but I suppose it would be unfair to the author for me to spoil the book by revealing his interesting response in this review.
Besides reflecting upon her time assigned to the White House beat, April also devotes space to the building’s history. For instance, she points out that, “like the Capitol” it “was built with slave labor.” Furthermore, “many presidents brought slaves to live with them as cooks, housekeepers, personal maids, and servants.” In fact, the second baby ever born in the White House was a slave belonging to Thomas Jefferson.
How ironic is that, given how the White House has come to be such an iconic symbol for freedom and liberty?
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