In A Nutshell
Though known and referred to as an enduring symbol of freedom, the Statue of Freedom was assembled by Philip Reid, a slave at the foundry where the statue was eventually sent for casting. He was only paid if he worked on a Sunday so only earned a measly $41.25 for his efforts. Slaves were also heavily involved in procuring most of the materials and the eventual hoisting and fitting of the statue.
The Whole Bushel
As noted above, the Statue of Freedom (formally known as “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace” or, more succinctly, “Freedom”) is an enduring and recognizable avatar of American ideals. Mainly, well, freedom. Designed by Thomas Crawford, who sadly died before he could see it take its place upon the dome atop the Capitol building, the statue is a 6-meter (20 ft) tall, 7-ton piece of bronze art.
However, despite its obvious connection with freedom, a slave who was paid a pittance for his work is one of the more important people involved with the project. Philip Reid was a “worker” at the Clark Mills foundry, the place tasked with casting the bronze version of the statue.
However, before this was to happen, the model to be used in the casting was coated in plaster and displayed for the public. When it came time to transport it, the people who originally coated it in plaster refused to tell anyone where the joints in the model were, effectively making transporting it impossible. They refused to help until they were given a large raise.
Clark Mills, rather than pay them, asked Reid to figure out the problem for him instead. (He solved it by attaching a rope to the plaster model’s head and pulling until he could note where the cracks formed.) Reid was also one of the people involved with the eventual bronze casting, a fact we only know because pay slips were recently discovered in his name. Since slaves were only paid if they worked on a Sunday, Reid was paid a total of $41.25 for his work with Mills.
Funnily enough, by the time the statue was put in place, Reid has been granted his freedom. His former owner, Clark Mills was given $1,500 compensation for loss of property. Reid was given nothing. And there’s still a debate about how to best honor his and the other hundreds, if not thousands, of slaves who helped make the statue a possibility for their work in collecting raw materials and the hoisting and fitting of the statue.