Price White House Historical Association intern helps shed light on legacy of slavery in DC
By Matthew Kredell
Kelsey Kaline grew up in Detroit wishing she could take the city’s once-storied and impressive – but now vacant and declining – old buildings, and make them relevant in the community again. At USC, she found the perfect degree program to make that desire into a career. And this summer, she landed the ideal internship in the USC Price School of Public Policy’s White House Historical Association Summer Internship Program in Washington, D.C.
A student in the Master of Planning / Master of Heritage Conservation dual degree program, established in 2014 by USC Price and the USC School of Architecture, Kaline was the inaugural recipient of the paid internship, a collaboration between the Price School and the White House Historical Association.
“It was inspiring to work so close to the White House, and also an interesting time to be in D.C.” Kaline said. “I could feel the work and tension going on in the city. The most valuable part for me was just learning how to engage with others, talk about and create meaning around history.”
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) was founded in 1961 through the efforts of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as a nonprofit with the mission to enhance the public’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House.
Stewart McLaurin, president of the WHHA, is a long-time collaborator with the Price School from previous senior positions with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where he led the development and opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
It was at the George Washington Lecture Series event presented by USC Price and the Library in D.C. last year that McLaurin proposed having a Price student intern at the WHHA, giving the student the experience of being in the nation’s capital, working for a nonprofit and seeing the impact the organization makes.
“This is a partnership we hope to continue, as it gives a graduate student exposure to Washington and what is going on in the capital and the federal government,” said John Sonego, associate dean of external affairs at USC Price. “Stewart is really a visionary who sees the WHHA engaging all the different libraries and birthplaces of U.S. Presidents and working together to elevate the history of the country. Providing a student with the opportunity to be involved with an organization and leader with such a strong vision and appreciation for our country’s history is pretty phenomenal.”
Telling an untold legacy
Kaline spent two months interning for the WHHA at its headquarters in the Decatur House, which is one of the oldest surviving homes in D.C., completed in 1818.
Her main task was to begin a timeline on urban slavery in Washington D.C., including in the construction of the White House and who lived in the slave quarters behind the Decatur House. In starting the project, Kaline looked through documents, census records, wills, diaries and correspondence from architects for information.
“We want to make sure their legacy is told,” Kaline said. “D.C. was the capital of the domestic slave trade for a while, such a contrast being within eyesight of this symbol of freedom in democracy.”
In addition, Kaline had the opportunity to create content for the WHHA’s Facebook page, which has nearly a quarter million followers. Given the freedom to identify and tell little-known stories related to the White House of interest to her, Kaline wrote posts on First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest child, a senior prom held at the White House during the Ford administration, the first photograph taken of the White House, a clock in the White House and the construction of the Oval Office. She did a long-form article on the history of White House photographers for the WHHA website.
Of course, Kaline also got to visit the White House twice.
She wants to have a career in preservation planning, helping cities document, advocate for and manage their historical resources.
Kaline’s interest in preservation planning came from growing up in Detroit at a time when she witnessed both urban decay and urban rebirth.
“I grew up around all these beautiful art deco buildings that were totally unused and falling apart,” Kaline said. “I always knew I wanted to go into a field of how to make cities work for their citizens, which is why I went into planning, but also how to use existing buildings better for the community.”
WHHA Senior Historian Matthew Costello, who served as Kaline’s supervisor for the internship, said that he also would like to see the partnership with the Price School continue, with the next intern building on the project started by Kaline researching slavery in Washington, D.C.
“Kelsey did such a fantastic job, creating a Google document to track everything done so future fellows and interns can pick up where she left off,” Costello said. “She was very friendly, very outgoing, but also very ambitious. She embraced the challenge of coming all the way from California to D.C. to do this. We look forward to hosting another Price School student next summer.”