WASHINGTON (AP) - The House of Representatives acknowledged in July 20009 the use of Black slaves in the construction of the U.S. Capitol, ordering officials to place a marker inside the new Capitol Visitor Center using some of the original stone quarried by those slaves for the building.
"This physical and permanent marker will pay tribute to the blood, sweat and tears of the African-American slaves who helped build this magnificent building and ensure that their story is told and never, never, ever forgotten,'' said Democratic Rep. John Lewis, a noted civil rights activist during the 1960s. The vote was 399-1. The Senate is considering a similar measure.
The House resolution orders the Architect of the Capitol to place in a prominent location in the visitor center's Emancipation Hall a marker acknowledging the role that slave labor played in constructing the neoclassical U.S. Capitol.
"Far too often the detailed rise of our Capitol building fails to recognize the vital contributions by slave laborers,'' said Republican Rep. Gregg Harper.
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson said some of the original stones were removed from the Capitol during a renovation and have been held in storage. "We must acknowledge the sacrifices of those Americans who, without choice, worked to build a government that kept them in bondage,'' he said.
Lawmakers have been looking for ways to honor the slaves whose labor was used in the construction of government buildings including the Capitol and the White House, the presidential residence.
Congress already has named the largest room in the visitor center "Emancipation Hall'' in their honor.
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 worker per month. The slaves were not paid.
In addition to working on the building, slaves worked in quarries where they extracted the stone for the Capitol. Other slaves provided carpentry skills, and others were used for sawing stone and timber.
Slave women and children were used to mold clay in kilns.
The House also took up a resolution directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto "In God We Trust'' in conspicuous places in the three-story underground visitor center. The Senate passed the same resolution Monday night as part of a spending bill.
Iowa Rep. Steve King, the only Republican to vote against the bill, said he opposed it because it was put up for a vote before the depiction of "In God We Trust'' could be considered in the visitor center.
He called it another example of "liberals in Congress'' trying to remove references to the nation's Christian heritage from the Capitol.
"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,'' King said in a statement.
The measure was sponsored in the House by Democratic Rep. Dan Lungren.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the engraving costs would be less than $100,000.