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Brick By Brick: Honoring the African Americans Who Built The White House

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

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How often do you learn something new and wonder why you never learned it in school? It happens far too many times it seems. Did you know that enslaved people played an integral role in building The White House?

Children's books are one of the best ways to help readers connect with stories and Brick by Brick does not disappoint. The lyrical language combined with stunning illustrations helps readers connect with a part of American history that is often overlooked.

  • Title: Brick by Brick

  • Author: Charles R Smith, Jr.

  • Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper

  • Publisher Recommended Grades: Pre-K and up

  • Purchase it: Here

Floyd Cooper's illustrations brings Smith's words to life.

About the book:

The compelling true story behind the building of the White House, a powerful part of history rarely taught. From Coretta Scott King Award winners Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper.

The home of the United States president was built by many hands, including those of slaves, who undertook this amazing achievement long before there were machines to do those same jobs.

Stirring and emotional, Floyd Cooper's stunning illustrations bring to life the faces of those who endured hard, brutal work when the profit of their labor was paid to the master, not the slave. The fact that many were able to purchase their freedom after earning money from learning a trade speaks to the strength of those individuals. They created this iconic emblem of America, brick by brick. Includes an insightful author's note and a list of selected resources.

Note: As always, please preview the book before sharing it to ensure it is appropriate for the individual child or group of children you will share it with.

Further reading:

Slaves at the White House Did More Than Just Build It


About the author and illustrator

Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning author, photographer, and poet with more than thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem "My People" and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his biography on Muhammad Ali, 12 Rounds to Glory. He is the author of Rimshots, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens, Tall Tales, Short Takes, Diamond Life, and I Am America.

Charles has shown the ability to apply his talents to a variety of subjects, including diversity with “I Am America” and "I Am the World", Greek mythology with “The Mighty 12”, how slaves built the White House with "Brick by Brick" and Negro League baseball with “Stars in the Shadows” to name a few. His poetry has also been used to paint unique biographical portraits of personal heroes such as the aforementioned Ali, boxer Jack Johnson and soon, guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Of the distinctive niche Charles fills with his books, he notes, "I want to show students, particularly boys, that there are many ways to pursue their interests, no matter what they may be."

To hear excerpts from his books and learn more about Charles R. Smith Jr, visit his website at

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984, he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books, and he now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children. Learn more about Floyd cooper at his website:


The Black History of The White House

The Invisibles: The Untold Stories of African American Slaves in the White House

Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington D.C.

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