African Americans and Washington DC
The United States Capitol. Deborah Willis/AASC
The United States Capitol has long been a highlight for visitors to the city. Completed in 1826, the original building was made of brick clad in sandstone. The north and south wings and connecting corridors, added in the mid-19th century, and the replica of the East Front, constructed in the 20th century, are made of brick clad in marble; the dome is made of 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron. Keith Melder writes about visitors in the 1850s, "The U. S. Capitol was a welcome sight to those making the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue. It seemed as beautiful as the town below it seemed incomplete. The hill on which it sttod was covered with trees and lawns. The building struck visitors as being "imposing” in size and in its "exquisite whiteness.” This photograph shows the Capitol in renovation, the Dome and the terrace with scaffolding. The overlooked role of black workers was acknowledged recently by Congress when a plaque memorializing the roles of enslaved black workers was placed in the building. To commemorate the role of enslaved laborers "House Concurrent Resolution 135 was passed by Congress directing the Architect of the Capitol to design, procure and install a slave labor marker in a prominent location in Emancipation Hall.” The marker features a single block of Aquia Creek sandstone, which was originally part of the Capitol’s East Front Portico, presented on a platform clad in Cedar Tavernalle marble. The original chisel marks on the sandstone are in view so visitors can see the physical effort required to hew the stone. A hole in the top of the stone was cut to receive a lifting ring used to raise the stone out of the quarry. A bronze plaque is centered on the presentation wall, with an inscription approved by Congress, acknowledging the efforts of all who worked on the Capitol Building. The inscription reads:
THIS SANDSTONE WAS ORIGINALLY PART OF THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL’S EAST FRONT, CONSTRUCTED IN 18-24-1826. IT WAS QUARRIED BY LABORERS, INCLUDING ENSLAVED AFRICAN AMERICANS, AND COMMEMORATES THEIR IMPORTANT ROLE IN BUILDING THE CAPITOL.
It is noted that "One of the most significant contributions by an African American slave was made by Philip Reid, who deciphered the puzzle of how to separate the five-piece plaster model of the Statue of Freedom.". The marker is located towards the western end of the northern wall of Emancipation Hall where it is bathed in sunlight for a portion of each day and will not interfere with visitor flow.