Washington, DC— Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks at a ceremony this afternoon to dedicate a plaque honoring the contributions of enslaved African-Americans who helped construct the U.S. Capitol. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“In the same year President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a bronze statue built by a slave was lowered into place atop the Capitol Dome.
“That slave’s last name happened to be Reid. And that statue’s name is ‘Freedom.’
“The title of the Capitol’s crowning feature belies its own history – and it hardly describes the foundation of the building over which it presides.
“Each of us speaking today recognizes what a privilege it is to call this place our workplace. But countless local slaves labored here long before we – or any Senators and Congressmen before us – could enjoy that great honor.
“Their tasks were backbreaking. Yet while condemned to a sentence of disgraceful injustice, they somehow found the strength to fashion the most graceful designs.
“Through blistering summers and biting winters in snake-infested quarries, they carved and carried the stones that would shape a structure in which leaders would shape a nation.
“Their fraught hands build a temple to liberty, though many of them would never know that blessing first-hand.
“They toiled with nothing more than the hope and the faith that a promise would be fulfilled inside the halls they built: the rights of their descendants to be free – to be counted as equal citizens – to elect the leaders who would represent them – and to serve as those representatives themselves.
“In this place where so much of American history is written, it is our duty to ensure none of it – no matter how foul – is erased from our national memory.
“That is what we are doing today. We share their story and place this plaque not only for those who worked here generations ago – but for those who will work and visit here for generations to come.”