"'The Home of the Oppressed': Democracy, Slavery and America’s Civic Architecture" explores how the United States’ early civic sphere formed within a landscape of chattel slavery whose laborers built and maintained the architectures of democracy. It is critical to consider that enslaved black people, humans classified as property who lacked the proper political subjectivity to be literally (and legally) self-possessed, built several of the nation’s important civic buildings—the Virginia Capitol, the White House, and the US Capitol. These edifices stand today as Enlightenment monuments to the power of reason and the virtues of equality, justice, and freedom.
Mabel O. Wilson is the Nancy and George Rupp Professor at Columbia University GSAPP and a professor in the African American and African Diasporic Studies Department. She is the author of Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture (2016) and Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (University of California Press, 2012). She is a designer/historian on the architectural team for the Memorial to Enslaved African American Laborers at the University of Virginia.