Thursday, New York Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) released a statement asking President Obama to recognize the contributions of slaves who built the White House. This request comes two years after Congress acknowledged the efforts of those who worked tirelessly to build the Capital building with plaques in the new Emancipation Hall and the galleries outside of both the Senate and House chambers.
After one of his constituents urged him to look into the contribution of slaves in the construction of the White House, Rep. Ackerman said he found their omission to be offensive.
“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,” Rep. Ackerman said in a statement. “I’m proud Congress took action to correct this failure and I now urge the White House follow suit.”
Rep. Ackerman continued, “Slaves helped dig the foundation for the White House. 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.
“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. 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.”
America has always had a complicated history with slavery. Although lawmakers have apologized for the practice of enslaving millions of people and treating their descendants as second-class citizens, they have failed to deal with many of the systematic effects of its racist system.
Will our Nation ever get it right when it comes to recognizing those who built it from the ground up?