by Nikki Grimes

Author’s Note 
The White House did not always belong to us all. For many years, African Americans certainly felt left out. But there was also a time when the deaf and the blind were strangers to the White House corridors. First Lady Patricia Nixon changed all that in 1969, throwing the doors open to finally welcome this segment of the American population. I tried to imagine what that first visit might have been like for one of the blind students who set foot inside those hallowed halls. Known for her personal touch, (As first lady, she personally shook the hands of more than a quarter of a million visitors in her first term, alone!) I’m certain Mrs. Nixon made this visit a memorable one.

Staking Claim
I told myself
it was no big deal.
So, no blind person had ever been
to the White House before.
So what
I wasn’t getting my hopes up
for anything special,
never mind what Teacher said.
But then, Mrs. P got to me,
Kind as any aunt, 
though no kin of mine
(her skin, they say, was birch
to my ebony)
it’s her gentleness I remember.
She guided me through the halls
of that grand house,
coaxed my nimble fingers along
the scaled serpent legs
of the wooden Empire sofa
in the Red Room,
and tempted me to touch
the Green Room’s silk draperies,
soft as a hush.
When my fingers tangled
in its tassels,
Mrs. P’s laughter
tinkled like glass.
Then she surprised my warm palms
with the cool silver
of an ancient urn
that once served hot coffee
to John and Abigail Adams.
China Room, Green Room, 
Red Room, Vermeil Room—
these were just words to me.
But thanks to Mrs. P
I did “See” the White House that day,
and the memory lodges deep
in the beds of my fingertips.
Now, when others speak 
proudly and personally
of Our White House,
their “our” and “we”
includes me.
 Nikki Grimes

©2008 Nikki Grimes; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance