This evening President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address. A Gallup poll shows a stark racial divide in Americans’ views on the current state of the country.
Overall, Americans are as likely to be positive (39%) about the current state of the country as they are to be negative (40%). However, the gap between whites' and nonwhites' views of where the country stands is wider than at any point in recent history, with nonwhites now almost twice as likely as whites to view the nation's situation positively.
It’s a pipeline that consumes some students more than others; students of color and disabled students are being suspended, expelled, and sent into the justice system at much higher rates than their white, nondisabled counterparts. Growing criticism of zero-tolerance policies has highlighted the way they ruin lives, burden the justice system and create more work for everyone, with experts like the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) noting that “research [on such policies] indicates that, as implemented, zero tolerance policies are ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop-out and discriminatory application of school discipline practices.”
The chronic school funding crisis in Philadelphia is putting more students of color, particularly black boys, at risk. Meanwhile, the state Department of Corrections is constructing a $400 million prison complex in Graterford, which is located less than an hour from the headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia.
Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
That African proverb came to mind as I watched 60 Minutes’ report on the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Capitol. Scott Pelley interviewed Lonnie Bunch about Philip Reid, a slave who helped cast the Statute of Freedom that’s perched atop the Capitol Dome.
Philip Reid was an enslaved man who was owned by someone who owned a foundry here in Washington. And that when the statue, initially plaster, came back to the United States, there was a concern about how do you take it apart? Philip was really one of the people who knew how to do this, and he came up with the idea of how to separate the model, how to then cast the model. He led the people who were making the cast of the bronze statue.
Now here’s the rest of the story: The U.S. Capitol was built with slave labor, a fact memorialized on two commemorative markers in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center.
The plaques stem from a concurrent resolution introduced by Rep. John Lewis in 2009. The resolution directed “the Architect of the Capitol to place a marker in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center which acknowledges the role that slave labor played in the construction of the United States Capitol.”
Here’s the back story:
In May of 2005, House and Senate Leadership announced appointments to a Task Force to study the contributions of enslaved African Americans in building the U.S. Capitol. The Task Force was also charged with the task of developing recommendations to the Congress concerning appropriate recognition of these efforts. In support of this effort, in June 2005, the Architectural Historian of the Architect of the Capitol provided a report on the contributions of slave laborers to the construction of the Capitol. On November 7, 2007, during the 110th Congress, the Committee on House Administration held a hearing to receive the recommendations of the Slave Labor Task Force Working Group, chaired by Representative John Lewis of Georgia. The Task Force spent several years exploring the extensive role played by slaves in the construction of the Capitol.
Of course, Americans now living cannot rectify these sins of the past, nor can we even thank the slave laborers for their sacrifice. But we can acknowledge those sins and the sacrifices of the laborers. The Task Force’s report recommended a number of steps be taken to do what we can. Several of their recommendations, including the naming of Emancipation Hall in the new Capitol Visitor Center, have already been achieved.
Read more: Report 111-153 – Directing the Architect of the Capitol to Place a Marker in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center which acknowledges the Role that Slave Labor Played in the Construction of the United States Capitol, and for Other Purposes