That the United States Capitol, and specifically the Statue of Freedom that rests above it, was built by slave labor has long been a source of shame. The House sought to redress that grievance on Tuesday evening, however slightly, with a resolution acknowledging the role slaves played in the construction.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) isn't having it.
The resolution passed 399-1, with King voting against.
The purpose of the resolution, according to its text, is to direct "the Architect of the Capitol to place a marker in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center which acknowledges the role that slave labor played in the construction of the United States Capitol."
King has a long history of opposing resolutions he considers frivolous; in 2007, however, he introduced a resolution "recognizing the importance of Christians and the Christian faith."
A King spokesman did not immediately return a call. King later explained his position in a statement:
"In the Capitol Visitor's Center, we agreed to change the name of the Great Hall - which honored the immigrants that came legally to America - to Emancipation Hall to honor the 645,000 slaves and their descendants who were brought to the United States more than two centuries ago.
"Last night I opposed yet another bill to erect another monument to slavery because it was used as a bargaining chip to allow for the actual depiction of 'In God We Trust' in the CVC. The Architect of the Capitol and liberal activists opposed every reference to America's Christian heritage, even to the extent of scrubbing 'In God We Trust' from the depiction of the actual Speaker's chair in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"This is just the latest example of a several year effort by liberals in Congress to scrub references to America's Christian heritage from our nation's Capitol. Liberals want to amend our country's history to eradicate the role of Christianity in America and chisel references to God or faith from our historical buildings.
"Our Judeo-Christian heritage is an essential foundation stone of our great nation and should not be held hostage to yet another effort to place guilt on future Americans for the sins of some of their ancestors. Christian abolitionists gave their lives by the hundreds of thousands to end slavery. Great American leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worshipped God just as our Founding Fathers did. We must never forget this important aspect of our heritage or use it as a political bargaining chip."
Read the slavery resolution he opposed:
Whereas enslaved African-Americans provided labor essential to the construction of the United States Capitol;
Whereas the report of the Architect of the Capitol entitled `History of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the United States Capitol' documents the role of slave labor in the construction of the Capitol;
Whereas enslaved African-Americans performed the backbreaking work of quarrying the stone which comprised many of the floors, walls, and columns of the Capitol;
Whereas enslaved African-Americans also participated in other facets of construction of the Capitol, including carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, roofing, plastering, glazing, painting, and sawing;
Whereas the marble columns in the Old Senate Chamber and the sandstone walls of the East Front corridor remain as the lasting legacies of the enslaved African-Americans who worked the quarries;
Whereas slave-quarried stones from the remnants of the original Capitol walls can be found in Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia;
Whereas the Statue of Freedom now atop the Capitol dome could not have been cast without the pivotal intervention of Philip Reid, an enslaved African-American foundry worker who deciphered the puzzle of how to separate the 5-piece plaster model for casting when all others failed;
Whereas the great hall of the Capitol Visitor Center was named Emancipation Hall to help acknowledge the work of the slave laborers who built the Capitol;
Whereas no narrative on the construction of the Capitol that does not include the contribution of enslaved African-Americans can fully and accurately reflect its history;
Whereas recognition of the contributions of enslaved African-Americans brings to all Americans an understanding of the continuing evolution of our representative democracy; and
Whereas a marker dedicated to the enslaved African-Americans who helped to build the Capitol will reflect the charge of the Capitol Visitor Center to teach visitors about Congress and its development
Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring),
SECTION 1. PLACEMENT OF MARKER IN CAPITOL VISITOR CENTER TO ACKNOWLEDGE ROLE OF SLAVE LABOR IN CONSTRUCTION OF CAPITOL.
(a) Procurement and Placement of Marker- The Architect of the Capitol, subject to the approval of the Committee on House Administration of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate, shall design, procure, and place in a prominent location in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center a marker which acknowledges the role that slave labor played in the construction of the United States Capitol.
(b) Criteria for Design of Marker- In developing the design for the marker required under subsection (a), the Architect of the Capitol--
(1) shall take into consideration the recommendations developed by the Slave Labor Task Force Working Group;
(2) shall, to the greatest extent practicable, ensure that the marker includes stone which was quarried by slaves in the construction of the Capitol; and
(3) shall ensure that the marker includes a plaque or inscription which describes the purpose of the marker.
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