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Bill to Create Statue of "The Unknown Slave" in Washington, DC

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In an effort to honor the slaves who helped build the United States Capitol, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens/L.I.) introduced legislation this week that would create and permanently display a statue of "The Unknown Slave" in Emancipation Hall, the main area of Congress' new Capitol Visitor's Center.

Under the measure, the Architect of the Capitol would be required to solicit bids and enter into an agreement to build the statue within 180 days of the bill's enactment. The legislation would also mandate that the Capitol's Architect consult with Congressional Black Caucus on the project.

"The creation of this statue would be the least we can do to pay tribute to the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves who help build the Capitol of the free world" said Ackerman. "Throughout our nation's history, little has been known about the role that slave labor played in the construction of the U.S. Capitol. Hopefully, the displaying of this statue would continue Congress' efforts to remedy this shameful omission from history and ensure that the story of these slaves is not only told, but never forgotten."

"Thousands of Black men and women held in bondage lent their bodies and their lives to the construction of the Capitol building" said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a cosponsor of the bill. "A statue in their collective honor would serve as a reminder of their contributions and of how far we have come. Their names may be unknown to the Capitol's visitors, but to their families, their peers, and their friends, they were human beings, made of flesh and blood not stone. Our nation is great, not in spite of the mistakes of our past, but because we acknowledge them, remember them, and use them to strive towards a more perfect union."

Ackerman's legislation has been referred to the Committee on House Administration, the panel that oversees the operations of the House. The measure, if passed by the House, would also require the approval of the Senate. It would not need to be signed into law by the President.

The Architect of the Capitol is responsible for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of the United States Capitol Complex.

The Capitol Visitor's Center, an extension of the Capitol that welcomes visitors to Capitol Hill, opened this past December.
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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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