Memorial eyed for slaves who helped build Capitol

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The statue crowning the U.S. Capitol is called "Freedom." Yet it was a black slave who figured out how to coax apart the 19½-foot, 15,000-pound plaster statue so it could be cast in bronze and rejoined atop the dome.

Slaves, in fact, helped build much of the building and grounds of Congress, their owners earning $5 per month for their work. Ed Hotaling, a retired TV reporter in Washington, was among the first to widely publicize this in a report in 2000.

Following Hotaling's lead, a task force is planning a permanent memorial to the hundreds of slaves who helped build the Capitol from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s. The group will make recommendations to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Sen. Ted Stevens (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, president pro tempore of the Senate.

During February, Black History Month, task force members have been particularly focused on their role and have shared ideas by telephone as they prepare to meet.

The final cost and form of the memorial is still undetermined. It could be a site on the Capitol grounds or a living memorial such as an annual traditional African ceremony to honor the slaves.

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