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Why Tell The Story Of Philip Reid After Slavery?

     One of my major interests in Black History has been American Slavery and how it shaped the lives and negative attitudes of Americans, black and white. At the root of this negativism has been the tendency of historians to view and report on black participants in the "peculiar institution" in mechanistic, non-human terms, attempting to reduce them to non-persons, as simple mechanisms and cogs in the early development of the American economy. They referred to Blacks simply as "slaves---seldom, if ever, as with unique identities, first and last names, personal problems, emotions, attitudes, beliefs and motives-common attributes of human beings.

A possible "solution" to this problem, it occurred to me, was for me to get into the skin of the subject "slaves" and view the world the way they must have viewed it and view their problems in the same human terms as for non-"slaves." Perhaps by my sharing of this "inside" view I could bring a small number of Americans to a new place from which they might view their fellow Americans across the racial divide in a new perspective.

With this mission as my goal I went rummaging through the files on American slavery at the National Archives, the Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress looking for the records of an individual black person ("slave") whose skin I could "get into" and tell their story through Historical Fiction (reporting whatever "facts" I could find and making up the rest to create a well rounded story.) I was looking for the regular bare bones representation that American history offers for 99% of black participants in slavery.. I was looking for the incomplete personal histories that I could push toward completion by adding the feelings and emotions that make up a living human being.

I found what I was looking for in the story of Philip Reid. I found the facts about where he was born, who "owned" him and who "purchased" him in the Archives/Architect/Library files. I read about the rebuilding of the dome of the Capitol just prior to the Civil War, including information on the significant role that Philip Reid played in the bronze casting of Thomas Crawford's plaster model called Freedom, currently topping the Capitol Dome. It was exciting reading, but I realized that just reading about this new history would add little to my task of bringing skeletal outlines to full life.

Writing the history of Philip Reid forced me to get far more involved with Philip's mind than I would have had to do if I had stopped at just reading about him. Writing about Philip forced me to create/make up for Philip all the attitudes, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures that make up the human experience. He became real, alive, purposive, shy, funny, determined and fearful. He became Philip Reid After Slavery.

This simple exercise of taking available notes on Philip Reid and expanding them into a full-fledged narrative of how he must have done what he did made me understand that Philip Reid was never "just a slave." He was a living example of the promise of the American Dream, who happened to be black. While no other Black equaled Philip Reid's achievement, millions of them came close enough to create the roads, buildings and monuments of the major cities of the South---in addition to building the White House and Capitol. When you understand Philip Reid and his achievements you come to understand the lives and contributions of millions of American Builders, who, like Philip Reid, happened to be black, but who achieved in spite of incredible obstacles.

Telling the story of Philip Reid is a step toward telling the stories of all the builders of America, who happened to be black, and their contributions against the odds. That is why we must tell the story of Philip Reid and celebrate his contributions.

December 2, 2013 represents the 150th Anniversary f the installation of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome. It is time to commemorate Philip Reid's part in getting that job done. It is also time to commemorate the contributions of the millions of other achievers who looked like Philip Reid and worked just as hard.

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Article Source: The author is the former Coordinator of Affirmative Action at the Library of Congress and currently CEO of EWEmedia, which creates, produces and promotes articles, booksand videos on variousissue in American History--particularly issues of American slavery and race relations.

Posted on 2013-10-08, By: *

* Click on the author's name to view their profile and articles!!!

Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author.

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