SCHUMER UNVEILS LONG-AWAITED AND LONG-DESERVED PLAQUE COMMEMORATING ENSLAVED AFRICAN-AMERICANS WHO HELPED CONSTRUCT THE U.S. CAPITOL
Schumer, As Chairman of Rules Committee, Led Ceremony to Install Plaque in Senate Wing of U.S. Capitol Yesterday
Schumer Was Original Co-Sponsor of Resolution Honoring Enslaved African-Americans for Their Contribution to Construction of U.S. Capitol
Schumer: This Plaque Honoring These Brave Americans Is A Fitting Tribute to the Vital but Voiceless Work They Contributed to The U.S. Capitol
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer led a ceremony to install the long-awaited plaque formally recognizing the contributions that enslaved African-Americans made to the construction of the U.S. Capitol. The new plaque was mounted atop original stone used to build the Capitol and is located in the Senate wing of the building, which is open to the public. Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, was an original co-sponsor of the resolution honoring enslaved African-Americans for their contribution to the construction of the U.S. Capitol.
“This plaque honoring the hard work of these brave Americans is a fitting tribute to the vital but voiceless work they contributed to the construction of the U.S. Capitol,” Schumer said. “It is essential that every American understands the plight of these brave individuals, who laid the stones to build the nation’s greatest symbol of freedom, yet were cruelly denied it throughout their own lives. I am proud to have fought so hard to see this plaque become a reality and am thrilled the public will now be able to view it and understand the complex history of the U.S. Capitol.”
Many of the enslaved African-Americans working on the U.S. Capitol left little written record, often not even their full names. But a few, especially those with key roles, are known. The best known account of an African-American associated with the construction of the U.S. Capitol was that of Philip Reid, a slave laborer of a sculptor. A plaster model of the Statue of Freedom, which sits atop the Captiol was constructed by the Italian sculptor, who would not reveal how to separate the model so the statue could not be cast unless he received a pay increase. The stalemate persisted until Reid was able to fashion a method to disassemble the statue so it could be transported to the foundry for casting. Reid was integral to the construction of one of the most recognizable symbols of freedom in the United States. He was eventually granted his freedom a year before the statue was placed at the top of the Capitol’s dome by a Congressional act that freed the slaves of the District of Columbia.
Another account was of Captain George Pointer, a slave who was born in 1773 and was able to purchase his freedom at age 18. Decades later, in 1829, Pointer gave a detailed biographical account of how he captained a boat that regularly brought sandstone and marble to Washington, D.C. used to build the floors and the columns in the House and Senate chambers.
The installation of the plaque was authorized by Senate Resolution 53, of which Schumer was an original co-sponsor. The resolution was cleared by the unanimous consent of the Senate on February 25, 2009. A similar plaque hangs in the House of Representatives wing of the Capitol. Both plaques were officially unveiled last week by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Republican Leader John Boehner.
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