Pelosi Remarks at Capitol Slave Labor Commemorative Stone Marker Unveiling

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at Emancipation Hall today in commemoration of the unveiling of a stone marker honoring slave laborers who built the U.S. Capitol.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Less than two years ago, we unveiled a plaque in the Capitol to honor the masons, carpenters, painters, and others, who with their skill, and their talent, gave our country-and indeed, the world-this beacon of hope.

“Today’s ceremony is an opportunity to recall the central role played by enslaved Americans in the construction of the U.S. Capitol.

“Today, we gather during Black History Month to complete this memorial-to place a new stone marker in Emancipation Hall, in a place named to celebrate a ‘new birth of freedom’ for our country.  This marker takes its place, its rightful place, alongside the bust of Sojourner Truth, which was dedicated in Emancipation Hall in 2009.  I recall that ceremony with great warmth, because at that time, our new First Lady, Michelle Obama addressed the crowd, noting how Sojourner Truth would react to seeing her, a descendant of slaves, becoming First Lady of the United States.  How far we have come.

“In this same hall, we act in the spirit evoked by the ‘Great Emancipator,’ President Abraham Lincoln, in his message to Congress in 1862 said: ‘in giving freedom to the slave, we assure the freedom to be free.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the Slave Labor Task Force and one of its co-chairs, who has spoken, Chairman John Lewis, and others, for making this day possible.  Thank you, John.  Thank you all for giving us this opportunity to help to make amends.

“We acknowledge the leadership, also, of our Congressional Black Caucus, the conscience of the Congress, for all they did to make this day possible over the years.

“For too long, the sacrifice of men and women who built this temple of democracy were overlooked; their toil forgotten; their story ignored or denied, and their voices silenced in the pages of history.  Yet today, we join together to strive to right this wrong of our past, to honor the sacrifice of these laborers, to lay down a marker of gratitude and respect for those who built the walls of the Capitol.

“In doing so, we remember and honor not only the slaves who completed the construction, but their ancestors brought to our shores against their will.  We remember and honor their children and grandchildren who struggled for emancipation and endured the ‘fiery trial’ of the Civil War.  We celebrate the generations who returned to this ground as free people.

“The stone we unveil today is a memorial to the tragedy and sin of slavery.  All of the previous presenters have spoken of the irony, in the case of Father, the contradiction, the irony of the other speakers that slaves would build this temple of freedom.  But this stone is not only a memorial to that tragedy and sin, it is also a tribute to our progress as a nation and a people, to our ongoing pursuit of ‘a more perfect union,’ to an unending search for liberty and justice for all.

“As Frederick Douglass, a Marylander and former slave, said: ‘the life of the nation is secure only when the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.’  With our ceremony today, we continue our work to restore honesty, truth, and virtue to our Capitol and to our history.

“We reaffirm the promise that no American will be left out of America’s story.  We pledge to keep working so that all who visit the U.S. Capitol recognize the contributions of those who came before, built this Capitol, and received the honor that is due them.

“Thank you.”

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