The past few weeks after the horrific racist and terrorist attacks in Charlottesville, have been a time for political pundits to discuss symbols of the Confederate. As I yell at my TV and some periodicals there are few voices talking about the images of slavery. There are cities around the country taking down statutes or having council meetings to discuss how to address this concern of removal of Confederate history.
I see that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will be introducing a bill to remove the Confederate statues in the Capitol building. These symbols of the Confederate are offensive to Blacks and many people around the world. But equally offensive is the erasure of the reason for the Civil War – Slavery. Slavery is the reason for the war and this is not discussed by prominent historians and it is rarely if ever taught to our young minds in the school system.
If it is ok to have these statues, plaques and other remembrances of the Confederate, why is not ok to show slaves and the horrific history of Slavery. In the summer of 2009 my late mother and her friends came to visit me in Washington, DC. I took them to the Capitol Visitors Center (CVC). The CVC is located under the US Capitol and is a tourist attraction for thousands of people each year. In 2008 the CVC was unveiled from a $600M plus renovation. This coincided with the 145th Anniversary of the 1863 placement of the Thomas Crawford Statue of Freedom that sits on top of the Capitol Dome.
Historians will remember what was going on in 1863 when the country placed the Statue of Freedom on top of the home of the legislative branch of the U.S. Many think that this statue is named Statue of Freedom and was placed on top of the dome to represent what was happening in our country at that time, the last few years of the Civil War. But that is not true. The statue was commissioned and awarded to Thomas Crawford for his design in 1855. The concept for the statue is based on war and peace – not the end of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation. Thomas Crawford died in 1857, four years prior to the start of the Civil War.
The visit to the CVC was with my mom and her friends, all women who lived most of their lives actively fighting to end discrimination of any kind but specifically against the Black community. As we walked around on the tour we listened to the docent speak about American history and the many historical representative images placed in the Capitol. There were statues, busts, drawings, paintings and written documents. It was surreal to us as we did not see one symbol of slavery and the docent’s script was void of any discussion on the subject.
The CVC was planned and initiated well over 100 yrs after the end of Slavery. Yet there are little to no symbols of the history of slavery in the entire building and this was done on purpose. The Emancipation Hall in the CVC has a bust of the Statue of Freedom and a bust of Sojourner Truth. Remember that the history of the statue is not based on freedom it was erected based on Thomas Crawford’s concept on war and peace. There is a deeply embedded and loving respect for Sojourner Truth in the Black community, but she alone, does not represent the entire atrocious history of Slavery. (I don’t think she would want to)
The CVC has a section titled Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the website. Some questions that I know are asked frequently are not listed. I know because I witnessed my mom and her friends ask these questions: “Where are the depictions of slavery in this building?; Why are there no images of slavery in this building? And Why don’t we hear about slavery in your script on the tour of the Capitol?”
On the FAQ website there is one question of interest: How is the history of enslaved labor in the construction of the Capitol conveyed to visitors? (See answer below) Also there is:
A commemorative marker acknowledging the role that enslaved laborers played in the construction of the United States Capitol
Let’s focus on two things about this representation of Slavery. The use of the word “enslaved” instead of Slavery and that only the construction of the Capitol is discussed about the entire history of Slavery in this country. There are no other symbols of Slavery in Emancipation Hall or the rotunda in the Capitol. There are some miniature scene sculptures in a small section of the hall. The statues depict enslavement but in no way do they encompass this entire horrendous history of millions of Black people.
The erasure of slavery in the US Capitol is a model for almost all state capitols and many other historic representations of the Civil War in this country. There are few statues of slaves in chains standing on a block being sold like cattle; or standing at a pole with fresh bloody wounds across their body after a beating with a leather whip; or a Black slave woman trying to hold onto her baby as the Master takes her child from her to give to another planation never to be seen again; or of a Black slave man with missing limbs cut from his body as a sign of warning to the others – “act up” and this is what will happen to you. Where are those statues, drawings or paintings in the historic remembrance of the Civil War?
Sen. Booker when you do your bill about the removal of the Confederate statutes can you also ask Congress to include some truthful and full portrayals of Slavery? Oh by the way can you ask them to refrain from using the term enslaved, a term that relieves them of horror and use the actual word Slavery a true terrible part of this country’s past?
In Solidarity and remembering all of my ancestors always!
Thank you for reading please leave comments and tell all about The WYIATT!
Answer to CVC FAQ question: (above in post) https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/frequently-asked-questions
The issue of enslaved labor in the construction of the U.S. Capitol is presented in a number of ways in the Capitol Visitor Center.
A commemorative marker acknowledging the role that enslaved laborers played in the construction of the United States Capitol is located in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
The marker is comprised of a block of sandstone that was quarried from Aquia Creek in Virginia. It was once a part of the East Front portico, which was completed in 1826. The stone is presented in reverse position to feature its original chisel marks.
In the Exhibition Hall, reading rails include text accompanied by images that discuss the contributions of enslaved laborers who cleared grounds, quarried stone, sawed timber, and labored on the Capitol’s structure. Reading rails around the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom highlight the contributions of Philip Reid, an enslaved laborer whose talents were instrumental in the casting of the Statue of Freedom.
In addition, the importance of enslaved laborers is discussed in the 13-minute orientation film that is shown to all visitors at the beginning of their tour of the Capitol. Educational information on the role of enslaved labor is also incorporated into the script for guide-led tours and staff-led tours of the Capitol. The topic is also covered in the Emancipation Hall brochure available in the Visitor Center and online.
Another question from CVC FAQ website:
Why did we remove the statues from the Capitol? Will the Statues in Emancipation Hall be rotated back into the Capitol and other statues moved out to the Capitol Visitors Center?