WASHINGTON (AP) _ They're two of the nation's most compelling symbols of freedom and democracy, yet nowhere around the Capitol or White House is there any recognition of the slaves who helped build them.
Former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts is part of a task force trying to do just that. Nearly five years after Congress voted to commemorate the work done by slave labor in building Washington, a panel is preparing for its first meeting sometime this summer.
Representative John Lewis -- a civil rights leader from Georgia -- organized the panel.
If Lewis has his way, the recognition will coincide with the opening in 2006 or 2007 of a state-of-the-art visitor center at the Capitol.
Historians estimate that slaves contributed as much as half the labor for the original Washington Capitol, working alongside white laborers, freed blacks, and hired contractors who did most of the creative work.
Slaves cut logs, baked bricks and poured concrete, usually 14 hours a day during the summer. Their owners rented them out for less than $60 dollars a year, and the government paid for food and lodging.