Skip to comments.Memorial eyed for slaves who helped build Capitol
Posted on 02/28/2006 7:19:56 PM PST by LouAvul
The statue crowning the U.S. Capitol is called "Freedom." Yet it was a black slave who figured out how to coax apart the 19½-foot, 15,000-pound plaster statue so it could be cast in bronze and rejoined atop the dome.
Slaves, in fact, helped build much of the building and grounds of Congress, their owners earning $5 per month for their work. Ed Hotaling, a retired TV reporter in Washington, was among the first to widely publicize this in a report in 2000.
Following Hotaling's lead, a task force is planning a permanent memorial to the hundreds of slaves who helped build the Capitol from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s. The group will make recommendations to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Sen. Ted Stevens (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, president pro tempore of the Senate.
During February, Black History Month, task force members have been particularly focused on their role and have shared ideas by telephone as they prepare to meet.
The final cost and form of the memorial is still undetermined. It could be a site on the Capitol grounds or a living memorial such as an annual traditional African ceremony to honor the slaves.
"I don't think the story of the Capitol would be fully told until we have something depicting the lives of the people who helped build it," says Rep. John Lewis (news, bio, voting record), D-Ga., a student leader during the civil rights movement. Lewis and J.C. Watts, a Republican former member of Congress from Oklahoma, set up the task force.
Currie Ballard, a historian at Langston University in Oklahoma and a task force member who favors a living memorial, says it is fitting that the effort also inform people about the country's African- American heritage.
"It's so apropos that America says, 'Yes, a wrong has been committed, and let's educate people that black people have made a significant contribution to America,' " Ballard says.
Slavery in Washington was different from slavery in the rural South, says Walter Hill, senior archivist and African-American history specialist with the National Archives. Households had smaller groups of slaves, eight or nine, and the men and women often were skilled artisans. Owners hired out their slaves to earn money.
In the late 1700s, when a federal commission began planning to build the Capitol, it hired slaves to work alongside free black and white workers. The idea was to keep free workers from complaining about their conditions by bringing in competition, says historian Bob Arnebeck, an expert on the construction of the Capitol.
Decades later, Congress decided it wanted a Statue of Freedom placed atop a new Capitol dome, and commissioned Thomas Crawford, an American sculptor who lived in Rome, to create it.
Crawford initially wanted to model the statue's headdress after freed Roman slaves. But Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederacy who headed the construction of the Capitol as secretary of war, objected to the slavery reference. Crawford instead created a helmet with eagle head and feathers, according to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Washington-area sculptor Clark Mills was hired to cast the statue - which arrived in five plaster parts from Italy - into bronze.
Mills' foundry foreman first put the plaster pieces together for exhibition, according to the Architect of the Capitol, but demanded more money to take it apart for the final casting. Mills refused and instead put Philip Reid in charge of the casting.
Reid was about 42, small in stature and respected for his work, according to C.R. Gibbs, a Washington historian. While working on the statue from 1860 to 1862, he figured out that by hooking a rope into an iron eye on its crown and instructing men to gently pull on it, the statue would come apart in its original sections, according to records at the Capitol.
Reid and others then were able to cast the parts in bronze.
In 1863, a year after President Lincoln freed Washington's slaves, the bronze parts were hoisted atop the Capitol and assembled. Some records indicate Reid played a role in that operation, too, although he would have been free by then.
Hotaling discovered the history of the slaves while researching the 200th anniversary of the Capitol.
"It was seeing history in the form of discarded old faded photostats lying on top of filing cabinets, and saying, 'My God, this is incredible. Why hasn't anybody done anything about it?' " Hotaling says.
And how many times, and for how long, must we repeat it?
I, for one, never owned a slave and never shot an indian. Therefore, is it necessary for me to feel guilt?
Remember "Pappy" Boyington first........
Failure to do so, means that anything else is "PC" Bravo Sierra.
The capitol is a memorial for those who built it. Put a plaque on it commemorating that fact. Enuf already!
The world does the same with Germany. The sins of their mostrous 13-year-history (1932-45) will be visited on them and their entire progeny until time stops.
Mind you, Italy, Russia and Japan, lockstep with Hitler, have been forgiven already. But, the Germans will be punished forever.
YOU and we other non-minorities will be whipped forever for the sins of our ancestors. Never mind where the slave trade started, who the slaves got captured and sold BY or that the slave trade still exists, the sins SHALL be visited on the sons until time stops.
That's human nature. Racism, bigotry, that is, all elitism is a TWO-WAY STREET, but only to people with common sense, straight, clear thinking and a sense of justice.
Now, let's get on with the discussion about how Democrats are putting at risk our national security.
More salt on the wound, these race pimps/agitators wont stop. Maybe we should turn MLK day into African American Day and be done with it like they did GWashington and ALincoln birthdays... come on.. good enough for the white guys.... should be good enough for the AAs. Oh, wait dont they have a whole MONTH??? Geesh...
What was a 'slave'? I don't seem to remember that term in my lifetime? Was it from the medieval ages?
They have a whole shakedown memorial for black americans going next to the washington monument. They can put something there.
of course they will make it so that the ENTIRE original DC was made by slaves and abraham lincoln was whipping them with the help of George washington.
I think we should build the memorial.
They we should build a memorial to the people who built it.
The people who build that memorial will get a plaque on the wall and a street named after them.
*Then we should build a memorial to the people who built it.
What? You mean clean up the place?
Time to hold the Rats feet to the fire.
At every turn, any Rat running for office should be asked a question like this:
"Senator Clinton, should blacks get reparations ?"
Why? Where do you draw the line? With what group? With what time frame/monument? IMHO this whole thing smacks of the implication that w/o slaves working on the monument [ oh, shades of "Ben Hur"!] it -- and just about everything else in this country -- would have never gotten built. That it was the slaves that found the straw for bricks.
You've got a whole month that we patiently suffer through all that re-hashed doo-dah. STFU.
he figured out that by hooking a rope into an iron eye on its crown and instructing men to gently pull on it, the statue would come apart in its original sections, according to records at the Capitol.
A genius, that one.
***"It's so apropos that America says, 'Yes, a wrong has been committed, and let's educate people that black people have made a significant contribution to America,' " Ballard says. ***
How about a memorial for those buildings built by freed slaves in Little Rock, Ark. that were destroyed to make room for X42's trailer house LIE-brary!
I was referring to the constructions of the era which might have been produced using slave labor. I see no problem with acknowledging that.
"In the late 1700s, when a federal commission began planning to build the Capitol, it hired slaves to work alongside free black and white workers."
Will these white workers be included??????
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