African American News and Genealogy

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Slaves Who Built America’s Monuments to be Honored

June 13, 2005 BY FRANK GREVEFREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF WASHINGTON -- In George Washington's day, slaves rented out by Maryland and Virginia farmers for $5 a month held many of the federal construction jobs in the new capital. Visitors 200 years ago wrote of the irony of slaves building the first temples of freedom, the Capitol and what was then called the President's House. But that history had nearly died until last month, when leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, in a bipartisan moment, approved a task force to recognize the slaves' role. "I'm proud that this country has finally stepped up to admit to the awful history that we have denied for so long, even in our textbooks," Currie Ballard, a historian of the African-American past at Langston University in Tulsa, Okla., and a member of the new panel, said in an interview last week. It's unclear what the panel will recommend or when, but historical research is under way. It's a story both infamous and remarkable, in which slaves worked not only as laborers but also as operators and managers of the quarry and lumber mill that provided the main construction materials. A slave, Philip Reid, ran the foundry and managed the slaves who cast the 18-foot, 10-ton bronze monument atop the Capitol's dome, which celebrates America's freedom. According to author and historian Ed Hotaling, slave labor wasn't what President Washington had in mind when planning for the capital's construction got under way in 1791. The government and its contractors initially sought white craftsmen and laborers from Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., and elsewhere, Hotaling discovered. Full Story:


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