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Philip Reid and the Statue of Freedom


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Statue of Freedom

Construction of the Capitol’s cast-iron dome continued throughout the tumultuous early years of the Civil War. To crown the structure, noted American sculptor Thomas Crawford was asked to design an allegorical statue representing Liberty. When Clark Mills, the owner of a local iron foundry, was tasked with casting the statue in 1860, he turned to an enslaved African American named Philip Reid to skillfully devise a method of separating and then casting the individual sections. “The black master-builder lifted the ponderous uncouth masses,” a newspaper correspondent wrote in 1863, “and bolted them together, joint by joint, piece by piece, till they blended into the majestic ‘Freedom.’” By the time the completed Statue of Freedom was placed atop the newly completed dome on December 2, 1863, Reid was a free man, by virtue of the DC Compensated Emancipation Act. “Was there a prophecy in that moment when the slave became the artist,” the correspondent inquired, “and with rare poetic justice, reconstructed the beautiful symbol of freedom for America?”