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From Freedom's Shadow: African Americans & the United States Capitol

PART VI

RECOGNITION: African Americans in Capitol Art

“The artwork in the Capitol – the ‘people’s house’ – needs to reflect the rich and profound history of women and minorities who have contributed to our shared American history.”
— Sen. Christopher Dodd, Sept. 17, 2002

The Capitol resembles a museum of American history. Paintings, murals, and statuary placed throughout the building depict major national events and honor distinguished people.

Prior to the 1970s, few African Americans were included among the works of art displayed in the Capitol. Constantino Brumidi’s 1871 mural of the Boston Massacre was the only major work of art to focus attention on an African American.  Beginning in the 1970s, Allyn Cox’s murals in the House wing included African Americans in several scenes.

In recent years, the effort to make the Capitol’s art collection more inclusive has intensified.  A bronze bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., was placed in the Rotunda in 1986. The Senate acquired a portrait of Senator Blanche K. Bruce in 2002; the House of Representatives unveiled a portrait of Congressman Joseph H. Rainey in 2005; and in November 2005, Congress authorized a statue of Rosa Parks to be added to Statuary Hall.

RECOGNITION: Getting History Right


”It is incumbent upon each of us not just to right the wrongs of history, but to get history right.”
— Rep. James Clyburn (Sept. 21, 2005, at the unveiling of the portrait of Joseph H. Rainey)

The Capitol’s message as the symbol of freedom and representative government continues to have meaning for African Americans. From the 1995 Million Man March to the honoring of Rosa Parks in 2005, events at the Capitol focus national attention.

The history of the United States is incomplete without the history of African Americans, and the history of the Capitol is incomplete without the story of the enslaved African American workers who helped to build the Temple of Liberty.

To “get history right,” Congress adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 130 on October 24, 2000, to create a task force to determine “an appropriate recognition for these slave laborers which could be displayed in a prominent location in the United States Capitol.”