Local man gets Congress to recognize slave labor

Bayside resident Mandingo Tshaka, was thanked by the House of Representatives recently, for making them “fess up.”

On June 15, The House of Representatives recognized Tshaka, “who first identified and advocated for the need to acknowledge the significant role that slave labor played in the construction of the United States Capitol.”

That need was satisfied two days later, with the dedication of a plaque acknowledging the role of enslaved African Americans as “an important part of the workforce that built the United States Capitol.”

“It began while I was watching the funeral of President Ronald Reagan, while he was lying under the Rotunda of the Capitol [June 10, 2004]” the former member of Community Board 11 and social critic recalled.

“I became angry because they could have all this honor and ceremony for the President, and not a single mention anywhere of the people who built the place.”

Tshaka, a retired musical theatre actor whose baritone voice is well-known among local officials and community activists, began contacting Congressmember Gary Ackerman, who instituted a congressional study.

A former high school social studies teacher and newspaper publisher, Ackerman admitted that he had never learned of the slave labor. “Slaves weren’t seen as people and so it went,” he said. He reported the study to Congress in May 2005.

“The study confirmed what Mr. Tshaka already knew: One of the most egregious human rights violations in the history of the modern world helped erect the United States Capitol,” Ackerman said on the floor of the House.

After a six year campaign, the country’s two-century-old dirty little secret was admitted – in bronze.

“The ceremony was in the [Sam] Rayburn room off to the side,” Tshaka told The Queens Courier. “They better not put the plaque up there where nobody can see it.”

In fact, there will be two identical plaques installed at the entrance to the spectators’ galleries of both the House and Senate chambers, an Ackerman spokesperson confirmed.