Search Capitol grounds for possible remains of African slaves

In July, I attended a ceremony honoring the contributions of the enslaved Africans who built the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in the 19th century. My congressman, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), also honored me in July by presenting me with a letter of recognition for my efforts in identifying the role the enslaved Africans had in our American history. This letter was read into the congressional record.

There is something else that must be done to honor these courageous people who were not recognized as human beings, leased by their owners for $5 a month and treated with disdain and disrespect. I believe that many of the enslaved Africans who worked on the Capitol building are buried on or near the Capitol grounds. I am calling for a scoping of the site in order to find the resting places of these unsung heroes of America. They should be honored and their resting places must be identified as the historic sites that they are. It is only just for these victims of racism and abuse.

The history of these people must be taught in schools. It must be spoken about in the media. We must never forget their sacrifices nor their inhumane treatment by the powers that were. Many died during construction. They suffered through frigid winters and steaming summers. These people built an icon of America without the modern equipment in use today.

I am appealing to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ackerman and all of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus to help in properly honoring the resting places and accomplishments of the enslaved Africans.

As co-chairman of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, I know it is possible to identify resting places from long ago. It is possible to restore old cemeteries and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

When I think of the blood, sweat and tears shed by the enslaved Africans who built the Capitol building, it motivates me to do all I can to see that these departed souls are remembered in perpetuity.

Mandingo Tshaka