By Nathan Duke
Mandingo Tshaka was honored by Congress last week by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who acknowledged the longtime Bayside community activist’s efforts to get plaques placed in Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Hall to recognize that the Capitol was built with slave labor.
The congressman praised Tshaka’s efforts in the House of Representatives June 15 and the Bayside resident traveled to Washington the following day to view the plaques, which are placed in Emancipation Hall and the Capitol’s visitor’s center.
“I have become immortal,” Tshaka joked. “I think this is awesome.”
He met with Ackerman and the two of them took photos together with the plaques.
In December, Tshaka attended the opening ceremony for Emancipation Hall, the largest space in the new underground visitors center on the east side of the Capitol. At that time, he said he was upset there was no mention that the Capitol was built by African slaves.
He brought the matter to Ackerman’s attention and, later that month, Congress voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution to place the two markers at the site.
Emancipation Hall is a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the Confederacy. Ackerman has also introduced a bill that would create a statue of “The Unknown Slave” in the hall.
Tshaka said he spoke to Ackerman and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during his visit to Washington last week and told them he had only one request left to honor the plasterers, roofers, painters, rafters and other slaves used to build the Capitol.
“The tents where they lived were in a swamp,” he said. “Many of them were injured and many died. They weren’t considered as human, so they were thrown in a pile. Somewhere on the grounds of the Capitol is a cemetery. I want them to find it, memorialize it and put a fence around it.”
In his tribute to Tshaka in Congress, Ackerman said the activist has “contributed immeasurably to his community and his country.”
“Throughout his life, Mr. Tshaka has tirelessly dedicated himself to advocating for civil, minority and community rights,” Ackerman said before Congress. “One of the most egregious human rights violations in the history of the modern world helped erect the United States Capitol. It is to Mr. Tshaka’s enduring credit that Congress will publicly and permanently recognize this fact this week.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.