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African-American slaves who sacrificed their health and even their lives to build the U.S. Capitol finally received recognition for their hard work by Congress.

On Wednesday (June 16) Congress erected commemorative plaques inside of the building they built to honor those who had no choice but to sacrifice for their country.

“In remembering the slaves who labored here,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said at the ceremony. “We give them in death some measure of the dignity they were so cruelly denied in life.”

The plaques read:

“This original exterior wall was constructed between 1793 and 1800 of sandstone quarried by laborers, including enslaved African Americans who were an important part of the work force that built the United States Capitol.”

Democratic Rep. John Lewis, a former civil rights leader, spear headed the task force that studied the contribution of slaves to the construction of our nation’s Capital. At the ceremonious event, Rep. Lewis told the crowd that the plaques help to ensure that those who sacrificed for their country will never be forgotten.

“Imagine, in Washington’s oppressive summer heat and humidity, to chisel and pull massive stones out of a snake- and mosquito-infested quarry,” Lewis said. “Imagine, having to fight through the bone-chilling winter in rags and sometimes without shoes. Just imagine, the United States government paying your owner, not you, but your owner $5 a month for your labor. This Capitol, the most recognizable symbol of our democracy, was not built overnight, it was not built by machines. It was built through the backbreaking work of laborers and slave laborers.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, along with their Republican counterparts McConnell and House Republican Leader John Boehner, unveiled the plaques inside the Capitol’s historic Mansfield Room. They will next be placed in the Congressional Visitor Center; its largest room is called “Emancipation Hall” in honor of the slaves’ work on the Capitol.

According to Historians, many slaves worked 12-hour days, six days a week on the construction of the Capitol. The federal government rented the slaves from local slave owners at a rate of $5 per worker per month.

Historical records also uncover that slaves performed other tasks at the Capitol, besides working on the building. Records show that slaves worked in quarries mining the stone for the Capitol, while other slaves provided carpentry skills, and others worked at sawing stone and timber.

Although the work was strenuous, women and children were not exempt. According to Historians, slave women and children were used to mold clay in kilns.

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