Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"I stand here humbled . . ."

In 2005, Congress appointed a task force to research the stories of slaves building the White House and/or the Capitol. The task force acknowledged it was not able to tell the full story. "No one will ever know how many slaves helped to build the United States Capitol Building — or the White House," says the 2005 task force report, entitled History of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the United States Capitol.

But the task force did find plenty of evidence of slave involvement in the capitol's construction. Perhaps the most compelling evidence were records of payments from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia — the three men appointed by George Washington to oversee the construction of the capitol and the rest of the city of Washington — to slave owners for the rental of slaves to work on the capitol. The records reflect 385 payments between 1795 and 1801 for "Negro hire," a euphemism for the yearly rental of slaves.

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