Scholastic releases children’s book about George Washington’s "happy slaves"

A new children's book, authored by Ramin Ganeshram and published by Scholastic, depicts George Washington's slaves as happy and joyful as they go on a fun-filled adventure to prepare a beautiful birthday cake for their master. The book ends on a happy note, with the slaves wishing Washington a happy birthday.

Fusion points out that A Birthday Cake for George Washington uses the names of actual people owned by George Washington, but fails to describe how the president schemed to keep Hercules, Delia, and her siblings enslaved by breaking the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act and regularly shipping his slaves back to Virginia so they would never be freed in his lifetime. Washington also endorsed brutal corporal punishment for the slaves he found to be "lacking". Hercules himself ran away to freedom from the White House on February 22, 1797, the day of Washington’s 65th birthday - without his daughter, from whom he had been separated.

Librarian Eli Campbell says: "Fully developed humans no doubt have the capacity to grin, smile, giggle and laugh but when this image of happy enslaved people is repeatedly portrayed in children’s literature it substantiates slavery as acceptable for black people by indicating their acceptance of this situation and it thus continues to dehumanize".

Here's how Scholastic described the book:

Everyone is buzzing about the president’s birthday! Especially George Washington’s servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar. This story, told in the voice of Delia, Hercules’s young daughter, is based on real events, and underscores the loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter, who are faced with an unspoken, bittersweet reality. No matter how delicious the president’s cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, VP of Scholastic, said that "Even though he was a slave, everyone knew and admired Hercules ― especially the president!".

The author herself, Ganeshram, decided to dig in her heels and defend the book, saying she did a lot of "research" and knows for a "fact" that Hercules was "admired and in-charge, despite his bondage". She also feels people need a more "nuanced" understanding of slavery.

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 owe it to ourselves — and those who went before — to try and understand this confusing and uncomfortable truth. To refuse to do so diminishes their history to one-dimensional histories that may give comfort to some but ultimately rob us all of the potential for real understanding.

After getting enormous backlash, she deleted her twitter.

UPDATE! After initially standing by the author and this book, the backlash became too big to ignore, and Scholastic just announced they are stopping the distribution of A Birthday Cake for George Washington. thank you __planitbremix for the update!

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hope this is alright mods