Slaves Honored For Building Capitol - 210 Years Later

Lawmakers unveil plaques to honor African-American slaves

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    WASHINGTON - JUNE 16: U.S. John Lewis (D-GA) (R) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)(L), look at newly unveiled plaques that recognize African American slaves, during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on June 16, 2010 in Washington, DC. The plaques will be hung in the Capitol to recognize the contributions of enslaved African Americans used in the construction of the United States Capitol. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    African-American slaves sweated in the summer and shivered in the winter while helping to build the U.S. Capitol.  And now, more than 200 years later, they’re finally being recognized for all their hard work.

    Congress took note of their service and sacrifice Wednesday by erecting commemorative plaques inside the Capitol in their honor.  Lawmakers said the memorials would ensure that the contributions of slaves in building one of the world's most recognizable buildings are never again forgotten.

    ``In remembering the slaves who labored here, we give them in death some measure of the dignity they were so cruelly denied in life,'' Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at the plaques' unveiling.

    The plaques read: ``This original exterior wall was constructed between 1793 and 1800 of sandstone quarried by laborers, including enslaved African Americans who were an important part of the workforce that built the United States Capitol.''

    Lawmakers have been looking for ways to honor the slaves who were used in the construction of government buildings, including the Capitol and the White House.

    Historians have discovered that slaves worked 12-hour days, six days a week on the construction of the Capitol.  The federal government rented the slaves from local slave owners at a rate of $5 per person per month.

    In addition to working on the building, slaves worked in quarries extracting the stone for the Capitol.  Other slaves provided carpentry skills. Slave women and children were used to mold clay in kilns.