Construction of the Washington Monument began in 1848 with enslaved Africans as laborers, according to several sources. Construction stopped in 1854 due to lack of funds, and then resumed from 1877 until its completion in 1888. Built to honor the nation’s first president, the Monument represents a complex story of enslavement and freedom.

The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument with the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the foreground.

George Washington became a slaveholder at the young age of 11, and owned more than 300 enslaved Africans in his name at the time of his death in 1799. However, Washington’s last will and testament provided for the emancipation of all those who were enslaved at his estate, upon the death of his wife Martha, who in fact carried out her husband’s wishes in 1801, one year before her own death.

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