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6 Historic Structures in America That Were Built by Slaves

During the Democratic National Convention Monday, first lady and all-around black girl magician Michelle Obama gave a riveting speech. Honestly, there’s not a Michelle Obama speech out there that’s not inspirational, motivational and spirited. Ask Melania Trump.

However, there was a part of Obama’s speech that spoke to the heart of every black person, and it was when she said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” This wasn’t the first time she’d made this bold statement. She also said this during a commencement speech for the City College of New York, to remind everyone of the major possibilities of black people in this country. The country that slaves helped build.

But, of course, trolls had to be trolls, and many of them took to social media to refute Obama’s claim that slaves built the White House. Maybe it’s because America’s limited view of slavery is sweaty black people in cotton fields. Because of the Michelle Obama backlash, reputable site PolitiFact had to break it down so that it was officially broken: Michelle Obama is correct. Slaves indeed built the White House. But that’s not all. Our ancestors also built the tobacco and cotton industries … and pretty much … civilization. *sips tea while side-eyeing*

So take that haters! And also, take this: Six Historic American Structures That Slaves Built:

1. The U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building

Back in 2012, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi teamed up with party leaders in Congress to unveil a commemorative marker in the Capitol Visitors Center to pay tribute to the black men and women who constructed it. She said the marker acted as a memorial to the “tragedy and sin” of slavery. I wonder if the trolls came for her? During the ceremony, Pelosi also said, “For too long, the sacrifice of men and women who built this temple of democracy were overlooked; their toil forgotten; their story ignored or denied, and their voices silenced in the pages of history.”

And thanks to the good and educated folks over at Politifact, we know that Africans were “likely involved in all aspects of construction, including carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, plastering, glazing and painting, the task force reported. And slaves appear to have shouldered alone the grueling work of sawing logs and stones.”

2. Railroads

Old Rock Island Line

According to USA Today, all four major rail networks in North America—Norfolk Southern, CSX, Union Pacific and Canadian National—own lines that were built and operated with the labor of enslaved black people. Not only did many slaves construct these railways, they also ran them.


3. Thomas Jefferson’s Estate at Monticello and Other Presidential Estates

Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson
Monticello, home of President Thomas JeffersonISTOCK

In 2014, President Barack Obama took French President Francois Hollande on a tour of Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. And when Obama spoke of the visit, he said, “This house also represents the complicated history of the United States. We just visited downstairs, where we know the slaves helped to build this magnificent structure, and the complex relations that Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, had to slavery.” According to reports, slave labor also built George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon and James Madison’s at Montpelier.

4. Several Buildings at UNC-Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina’s Unsung Founders Memorial
UNC’s Unsung Founders MemorialSCREENSHOT

According to reports, as one of the nation’s oldest public universities, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has a long history of slave labor. Not only were many of its buildings built with the hands of slaves and some free black people, but many enslaved black people were servants to students. The memorial was installed on May 11, 2005. Three-hundred figurines based on three larger bronze sculptures support the memorial. The central part of the memorial acts as a table and contains the inscription: “The Class of 2002 honors the University’s unsung founders—the people of color bond and free—who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today.”

5. Wall Street

Wall Street sign in New York
Wall street sign in New YorkISTOCK

The Root tried to tell you back in 2013—slave labor built Wall Street and pretty much New York City. Peter Alan Harper wrote:

“The very name ‘Wall Street’ is born of slavery, with enslaved Africans building a wall in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids. This walkway and wooden fence, made up of pointed logs and running river to river, later was known as Wall Street, the home of world finance. Enslaved and free Africans were largely responsible for the construction of the early city, first by clearing land, then by building a fort, mills, bridges, stone houses, the first city hall, the docks, the city prison, Dutch and English churches, the city hospital and Fraunces Tavern. At the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, they helped erect Trinity Church.”

6. The White House

The White House
The White HouseISTOCK

Michelle Obama said it. Folks didn’t want to believe it. However, PolitiFact reports, “Enslaved people quarried and cut the rough stone that was later dressed and laid by Scottish masons to erect the walls of the president’s house. The slaves joined a workforce that included local white laborers and artisans from Maryland and Virginia, as well as immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and other European nations.”



Written by PH

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