Posted on June 18, 2010

Unveiling Ceremony for Plaques Recognizing Slaves Who Built Capitol

Robin Caldwell, Politic365, June 17, 2010

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted an unveiling ceremony for plaques to recognize the contributions of enslaved African Americans in the construction of the United States Capitol this afternoon in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol.


Rep. [John] Lewis’ online office has a brief history posted of the role slaves played in the Capitol’s construction,

Enslaved African-Americans played an integral part in the construction of the U.S.Capitol working as carpenters, masons, rafters, roofers, plasterers, painters,and glazers working in quarries, in addition to many other occupations. Slave women and children were used to mold clay in kilns. All of the slaves worked 12-hour days, six days a week and were paid five dollars a month which was given to their owners. There were more than 400 slaves involved in the construction of the Capitol who were rented from area plantations.

One place where the handiwork of slaves is visible is in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, which is a former meeting place for the House of Representatives that has been turned into an art gallery. {snip}

In her remarks, Speaker Pelosi noted,

Over the past decade, the Slave Labor Task Force worked to document the history of slave laborers who constructed the walls of the United States Capitol. {snip} Out of a dark chapter in our past, an age of equality denied, rights refused, a dream not yet realized, these masons, carpenters, painters, and others gave us this house of liberty and this beacon of hope for our nation, and indeed, the world.

History books up until now had not reported their story, nor described the pivotal role they played in erecting the Capitol. That the tale will be written forever into these walls, etched into this structure, and spoken from this marble chamber. {snip}