Yesterday, a number of blogs reported that right-wing Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was the lone dissenter on a House vote to acknowledge the role that slave labor had in constructing the U.S. Capitol. The resolution would merely authorize the placement of a marker inside the new Capitol Visitor Center to acknowledge the work of slaves.
In an attempt to quell the criticism, King spun his vote as an effort to defend religion. He said in a statement that he opposed the slave labor resolution because it was put up for a vote before the depiction of “In God We Trust” could be considered in the Visitor Center.
But in an interview with Radio Iowa yesterday, King offered a new explanation for his vote, complaining that the slave labor resolution wasn’t a “balanced depiction of history”:
KING: I would just add that there were about 645,000 slaves that were brought to the United States. And I’m with Martin Luther King, Jr. on this. His documents, his speeches – I’ve read most of them. And I agree with almost every word that came out of him. Slavery was abhorrent, but it was also a fact of life in those centuries where it existed.
And of the 645,000 Africans that were brought here to be forcibly put into slavery in the United States, there were over 600,000 people that gave their lives in the Civil War to put an end to slavery. And I don’t see the monument to that in the Congressional Visitor Center, and I think it’s important that we have a balanced depiction of history.
Listen here (full interview available here):
The Capitol Visitor Center is simply trying to recognize the work of those who built the Capitol. But King is apparently concerned that slaves are being unduly recognized while Union soldiers who fought for their emancipation are not getting any credit. He simply needs to open his eyes and look around Washington, DC. If he steps right outside the Capitol, he’ll see the Ulysses S. Grant memorial, a monument that commemorates the former general of the Union Army. (See picture to the right.)
Grant’s statue is flanked on either side by monuments of fighting Union Artillery and Cavalry groups. The Grant statue faces west toward the Lincoln Memorial, which of course honors the President who led the effort to free the slaves. In addition, at the Congressional Cemetery lies the Arsenal Monument, a memorial in honor of women who died while performing services for the Union Army. And there’s also an African American Civil War Memorial that honors the contributions that African-American troops made to the war effort.
If Steve King wants to learn more about how DC has honored the contributions of Union soldiers, he can order this book, titled: “Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments In Washington, D.C.” And if King’s truly interested in a “balanced depiction of history,” he’d be supporting a simple acknowledgment of slave labor’s role in building the Capitol, a memorial that doesn’t currently exist in DC.
ralph the wonder locust fact-checks King’s numbers: “If we want to count up the total number of Americans who lived as slaves from the seventeenth century until 1865, Rep. King’s attempt at ‘balance’ looks even more absurd.”