WASHINGTON – A U.S. congressman is urging President Obama to recognize the work of enslaved African-Americans who helped build the White House.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) has written a letter to the president asking for the role of slave labor to be recognized by displaying an appropriate acknowledgement in a public area of the White House.
“Slaves helped dig the foundation for the White House,” Ackerman wrote in correspondence to the White House Thursday. “They quarried stone that would be used for the walls, dug up clay for thousands of bricks, cut timber, sawed lumber, and performed carpentry inside the White House.
“Even after White House construction was completed, slaves continued to support White House operations. Slaves served in White House domestic staff from 1800 through the Civil War.”
It was just two years ago that slaves who helped build the U.S. Capitol were honored with commemorative plaques inside the Capitol, following a study by a congressional task force led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
“It was a shameful omission that visitors to the Capitol could tour the building to learn its history but not learn that slave labor was used in its construction,” argued Ackerman in a statement released Thursday. “I’m proud Congress took action to correct this failure and I now urge the White House follow suit.”
Ackerman said he was inspired to investigate the role of slave labor at the White House by one of his constituents, Mandingo Tshaka, an activist from Queens, N.Y., whom Ackerman credited with enlightening people about slaves’ experiences on Capitol Hill.
“From the U.S. Capitol Building to the White House, our national symbols that represent freedom to so many of us, were built by people who were anything but free,” Ackerman wrote.
“While the larger injustice of slavery can never be adequately corrected, the continuing failure of properly informing visitors to Washington of the history of slaves building our national structures — including the White House — should be remedied.”
Ackerman’’s push for the White House to recognize the vital role of slaves, comes as the country celebrates African-American contributions and heroes during Black History Month.
Historians have discovered that slaves worked round the clock, 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. The slaves were not paid.
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