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–by Joanna Hallac

While we are still in the midst of African American History Month, we here at USCHS decided it would be a good idea to let everyone know about a traveling exhibit that we have called, From Freedom’s Shadow: African Americans at the United States Capitol, which traces the path of African Americans and their relationship to the Capitol first as slaves building the Capitol to emancipation to becoming members of both the House and Senate and to the election of the first African American president and his subsequent inauguration at the Capitol. The exhibit was created in 2006 and has since traveled the country quite extensively, allowing for both young and old to learn the important lessons of the role played by Africans Americans in the long history of the Capitol.

Slave Coffle at Capitol (Library of Congress)

Its first few panels highlight the ironies of having slaves assist in the construction of the U.S. Capitol, in a move that had one anti-slavery newspaper saying that the Land of the Free had become the “Home of the Oppressed.” The exhibit goes on to paint the full picture of the role African Americans played in various times throughout the history of the Capitol, illustrating the struggles and triumphs achieved by those brave men and women who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to become members of Congress, and culminating in the election and swearing in of Barack Obama as our country’s 44th President.

"From Freedom's Shadow" traveling exhibit on display in 2006 (USCHS)

In addition to the traveling exhibit, there is an online version for those who do not get the chance to view it in person or for anyone who is interested in possibly hosting the exhibit who wants to get an idea of what it is all about. Additionally, there are a number of other online educational resources that students, teachers, and others can access to help further enhance their experience. Please visit our website at: http://www.uschs.org to view the online exhibit or to get more information on the traveling exhibit and possibly hosting it at your local school or library.

There is still much to learn about our country’s difficult past when it regards the treatment of African Americans and this exhibit is a wonderful way to celebrate and honor the contributions of all African Americans to our country’s heritage and history. We hope you’ll take a look online at the exhibit, as it is a truly worthwhile educational and historical resource. Enjoy!

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