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House Leadership to Unveil Marker Commemorating Slave Laborers of the U.S. Capitol

February 27, 2012
Press Release

WASHINGTON--On Tuesday February 28, 2012, at 4:30 PM in Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitors Center the leadership of the House and Senate will unveil a marker that commemorates the contributions of slaves who helped build the U.S. Capitol.

The unveiling is the result of 12 years of work by the Special Task Force to Study the History and Contributions of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the U.S. Capitol led by Rep. John Lewis. The committee was formed after a bill held in the National Archives came to light showing payment for the use of slaves in the building of the Capitol.  The bill was something archivists had known about for years, but a reporter discovered the it and publicized his findings.

“I am very proud,” said Rep. Lewis, “that the work of the task force has led to this and other ways that the story of slave laborers will be remembered as contributors to the Capitol building. Too many people believe that African Americans had played no significant role in establishing this country.  That is partially due to the fact that the story of their contribution has not been told.

“ When I walk through Statuary Hall,  it means a great deal to me to know that the unusual grey marble columns were likely hewn` and polished by slaves in Maryland.  They quarried the stone in Maryland and sailed ships or barges many miles down the Potomac River weighed down by heavy marble columns to bring them to DC. Somehow they carried them several miles through the streets perhaps using wagons and mules or horses, and then hoisted them up so they are standing as we see them today in the Capitol. The bronze statue sitting on top of the Capitol dome also involved the contribution of slaves.  These men and woman played a powerful role in our history and that must not be forgotten.”

In 2005 the Architect of the Capitol, an ex-officio member of the task force, submitted a report called History of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the United States Capitol.  The report includes the names and cost of the labor of over 100 slaves who helped build the Capitol.  In 2007 the task force requested a hearing by the Committee on House Administration on the subject.

Finally, after this initial study, the task force developed a series of recommendations for use by House, Senate and Architect of the Capitol curators to determine the best means to honor the role that slaves played in the work.  Tuesday’s ceremony marks the culmination of the work of the committee, led by Rep. Lewis.

NOTE: TV Crews will be able to access Emancipation Hall at 2:00 PM on February 28th for set up on the press riser.  All TV crews must have equipment in place no later than 2:45 PM for a security sweep of the hall.  All media must be appropriately credentialed through the press gallery.