As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on the history of the United States, and the role of slavery in our nation’s past. A recent investigation by The Washington Post revealed that a third of the artwork in the U.S. Capitol building honors enslavers or Confederates.
The investigation, led by reporter Gillian Brockell, examined more than 400 artworks in the Capitol building, including statues, paintings, and bas-reliefs. Among the 141 enslavers of Black and Native American people honored in the artwork, 13 were Confederate leaders, soldiers, and sympathizers.
The investigation also revealed that a statue of George Washington in a toga was removed from the Capitol, not because Washington was an enslaver, but because the statue was deemed scandalous.
In an interview with About US, Brockell discussed her work and the mission statement of Retropolis, which is “the past, rediscovered.” She believes that a lot of people dislike history because it can be rote memorization of powerful White men’s actions. As a journalist and storyteller, she aims to bring this work to readers and to uncover the contributions and perspectives of historically marginalized people.
Brockell also discussed the most interesting takeaway from her investigation that didn’t make it into the story. She briefly mentioned the handful of enslaved or formerly enslaved people who are depicted in Capitol artwork, and the story of the statue of “Freedom” on the Capitol dome.
Finally, Brockell discussed the response to her story, which included intense backlash from people who equated cataloguing the slaveholding status of our founders with “canceling” them or calling for their removal from history. She also discussed whether Congress will soon vote to take down the Confederate statues.
As we reflect on our nation’s past, it’s important to acknowledge the history of slavery and recognize the contributions and perspectives of historically marginalized people. We can celebrate Black History Month by learning more about our nation’s history and sharing our traditions with others.