Listen to this story on “Retropod”:
For almost two centuries, few people knew about Georgetown’s decision to auction off its slaves and use the money to help build a pristine, almost achingly beautiful campus in the nation’s capital. It is just the most recent example of the enduring and often unspoken physical legacy of slavery.
Buildings that stand as symbols of American democracy, including the White House and the U.S. Capitol, were erected with the labor of those who were not free. Here are other magnificent American institutions built by slaves or funded by their sale:
The White House
The U.S. Capitol
Slaves rented from their owners were involved in almost every stage of the Capitol’s construction, which began in 1793. The federal government relied heavily on those slaves, according to the Architect of the Capitol website, to make it possible for Congress to move from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800. Congress unveiled a marker to acknowledge the work of enslaved people in 2012. The image from the Library of Congress below shows the Capitol Dome being erected in 1863 — the year after the District’s 3,000 slaves were emancipated by Congress and President Lincoln.
At Thomas Jefferson’s famous Virginia estate, about 130 men, women and children were enslaved at any given time, including Jefferson’s mistress, Sally Hemings. For decades, many historians and Jefferson’s descendants refused to acknowledge her place in Jefferson’s life or the six children they had together. Now the stewards of Monticello are restoring the room where Hemings is believed to have slept just steps away from Jefferson. (Photo by AP/Steve Helber)
Nearly 200 descendants of the 272 slaves sold by Georgetown University in 1838 participated in a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope on the campus Tuesday. The university’s president, John DeGioia, apologized for the university’s role in the slave trade. Georgetown named a building in honor of one of those slaves and has promised to give admissions preference to descendants of the slaves. (Photo by Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post)
Read more on Retropolis: