History of Blacks and the White House Easter Egg Roll

History of Blacks and the White House Easter Egg Roll


Someone should inform the photo archivists at the Smithsonian that their caption for the photo accompanying this post is a bit misleading in its facts, and contradicts information on their website. The caption states,

Black children in Washington, D.C. participated in the annual Easter egg hunt at the White House, one of the public events that blacks were allowed to attend in that segregated city. – White House Easter Egg Roll, 1898. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Smithsonian.com offers the following information about black participation at the White House event:

Two decades after the White House began its Easter Egg Roll tradition in 1878, the National Zoo started one of its own. The event, which involved an Easter egg roll down the zoo’s Lion-Tiger Hill and a day of picnicking, became a hit, especially for DC-area African Americans, with attendance reaching a whopping 55,000 in 1919. Apparently, native Washingtonian Justine Love, at her 50thEaster Monday in 2003, said, “I always would ask [my father] why we couldn’t go to the White House to the Easter Egg roll, and he’d say because this activity is better for us.” The African American community claimed this event as their own, and it’s blossomed into a rich, multicultural celebration.

And why Easter Monday, instead of Sunday? According to a Washington Post article from 1986, in the early days of the event, many of Washington’s African Americans worked as servants and were given Easter Monday off. – Around the Mall, 4/10/09

If you look in the background and the areas surrounding this young man and little girl, you will find there are no other black folks. It’s doubtful that his father was the photographer.  That little girl is most likely that young man’s charge. He is, essentially, the hired help.

Washington, D.C. in 1898 was segregated along race and class lines. The White House Egg Roll was generally an event for wealthier families. Blacks from the Anacostia section of the city were allowed to attend but were most likely met with hostility. It wasn’t until the Eisenhower administration that black children were officially allowed to participate in the event. (Read HERE)

So the young fellow in the photo was there because he was working.

Things certainly have changed, huh?


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