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New Book Puts Spotlight on African American Achievement In DC (press release)

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Washington, DC ( – Black History Month is a time to honor the achievements of African Americans throughout the United States, but the contributions of African Americans to our nation�s greatest monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. are often glossed over by historians.

A new interest in the African American experience in the U.S. Capitol, the White House and surrounding areas is evident, however. Congress and President Bush just signed a law naming part of the under-construction Capitol Visitor Center “Emancipation Hall” to honor the slaves that helped build the U.S. Capitol; artists are hard at work on statues for black luminaries like Benjamin Banneker, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth for the nation�s capital; the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture is collecting artifacts for its eventual opening on the National Mall; and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument is only months away from completion.

Author Jesse J. Holland, who wrote the new book Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C., said that it�s about time that the long-forgotten, long ignored achievements of African Americans in the world�s most important city was recognized.

�African Americans made the District of Columbia into the internationally-respected city that it is today and their work should be recognized,� Holland said. �While others got the credit _ and the money _ for their work, it was African American slaves like Philip Reid, who cast the Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol Dome, and others who made the U.S. Capitol and Washington, D.C into the beacon of liberty it is today. The American people should honor these men and women more than one month a year, but it�s nice to see them finally getting some recognition.�

Holland’s book, which was published by Globe Pequot Press on September 1, is the first book to discuss in detail the contributions of African Americans in building the Capitol and the White House, as well as the appearances of African Americans in art throughout the Capitol.

Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C. tells the story of the African American contributions to the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the National Mall, as well as other sites in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Among the highlights of “Black Men Built The Capitol:”

– Several places inside and outside the Capitol can be directly linked to slave labor, including parts of the Statuary Hall, the old Senate chamber and the exposed original stone work of the East Front extension of the Capitol.

– The only African American with his signature on U.S. currency, Blanche Bruce of Mississippi, was also the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate and the only African American senator with his painting in the U.S. Capitol.

– Only one African American appears twice in Capitol artwork: Rep. Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, who was the first African American to serve a full term in Congress.

– There is only one statue of an African American in the Capitol: a bust of Martin Luther King in the Rotunda. However, two statues are in the planning stages for eventual display in the Capitol, one of civil rights icon Rosa Parks and the other of abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

– The National Mall was the site of several slave markets visible from the U.S. Capitol, including two locations near the current Department of Education.

– The first tell-all book about life inside the White House was written by an African American slave, Paul Jennings, who was owned by President James Madison.

– The first White House chef was supposed to be an African American. James Hemings, a former slave of Thomas Jefferson and the brother of alleged Jefferson mistress Sally Hemings, was recruited by Jefferson to become the head chef at the White House once the Virginian won the presidency but refused the job.

– An African American engineer, Archibald Alexander, is responsible for the construction of the Tidal Basin seawall and the Tidal Basin bridge on the National Mall where many of the city�s famous cherry blossoms bloom in the spring.

– Sojourner Truth was the most famous resident of an African American village, Freedman’s Village, which was torn down and replaced with parts of Arlington National Cemetery. She was also responsible for the desegregation of public transportation in the District of Columbia.

Jesse J. Holland has covered politics from the U.S. Capitol and the White House for The Associated Press since 2000, and has been interviewed by national media on a variety of topics, including African American contributions to the Capitol, the White House and the National Mall.

Holland, who was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Washington Association of Black Journalists.

More information about Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C. can be found at and at

Holland will be discussing and signing copies of his book at two Washington, D.C. libraries during Black History Month _ Cleveland Park Library on February 5 and the Southeast Neighborhood Library on February 26 _ as well as appearing at the AfroCentric Book Expo in Prince George�s County, Maryland on February 23 and at the Banneker Douglass Museum in Annapolis, Maryland on March 1. For more information about Holland�s appearances, see his Web site at

Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C. is published by Globe Pequot Press, based in Guilford, Conn. Globe Pequot is the world’s leading publisher and distributor of outdoor recreation and leisure titles. The company, a division of Morris Communications, annually publishes more than 500 titles and distributes 300 new titles yearly for other publishers.

For a preview copy, contact Robert Sembiante at Globe Pequot Press at 203-458-4555, or e-mail at For interview requests, contact Jesse J. Holland at


Written by Symphony

February 5, 2008 at 5:43 am

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    Reynaldo Senosk

    February 23, 2011 at 11:48 am

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