The decision-makers at Scholastic have come to their senses and pulled “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” a new coloring book based on George Washington’s slave, Hercules.
Even though Hercules was George Washington’s favorite slave because of his culinary skills, the first president of the United States went to great lengths to keep his slaves in bondage.
And his wife Martha kept their slaves after George Washington died.
What is most alarming about “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” is the playful nature in which the topic of slavery is presented. The first few pages of the coloring book describes how Hercules loved his fancy clothes and his gold wrist watch while enjoying his “near freedom.”
To top it all off, author Ramin Ganeshram correctly states that Hercules did have a daughter named Delia and a son named Richmond, but no evidence exists that either of them cooked, or made George Washington some celebrated birthday cake.
Despite this, Scholastic had no issues releasing the coloring book with cutesy illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, who is an African-American woman.
“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.”
Vanessa Brantley Newton found no issues in portraying the slaves as happy-go-lucky people who took great pride in their jobs.
“While slavery in America was a vast injustice, my research indicates that Hercules and the other servants in George Washington’s kitchen took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature,” illustrator Brantley Newton wrote in the book. “That is why I have depicted them as happy people. Their is joy in what they have created through their intelligence and culinary talents.”
It is seriously doubtful that Hercules gave two shits about sugar and probably had a much more serious thought on his mind – freedom maybe?
Hercules ended up escaping slavery’s clutches in 1797 when he ran away from Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon. Delia and Richmond remained in bondage for the rest of their lives. George Washington relentlessly pursued Hercules, and he even had his henchmen interrogate Delia, who was just six years old when her father escaped.
|Illustration from “A Birthday Cake for George Washington”|
It is amazing that the people at Scholastic considered this only as an afterthought, thanks to the backlash the coloring book received.
“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.
Scholastic has a long history of explaining complex and controversial issues to children at all ages and grade levels.
We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator.”
It is not exactly an apology, and Scholastic seems to be washing their hands of all wrong doing. In fact, the company promises to push more informational books to children of all colors.