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At Capitol, slavery's story turns full circle

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the US Capitol, the first African-American to become president will be standing amid stonework laid by slaves more than two centuries ago. He will appear before a crowd massed on the Mall, where slaves were once held in pens, ready for auction. He will end his inauguration route at the White House, where the foundations were laid by slaves, and where eight presidents held blacks as their human property.

At nearly every turn of Obama's march to history, the thread that deeply intertwines the founding of the nation with its great stain, slavery, will be evident. Yet for all the attention on Obama's racial breakthrough, the full story of slavery in the nation's capital remains beneath the surface.

While the Lincoln Memorial on the far end of the Mall draws attention to the fight to end slavery, there is no memorial at the spot near the Capitol where slaves were once kept and sold in a three-story building called the Yellow House.

"Many people come down to the National Mall and never realize that they are walking on the site of the slave markets," said Jesse J. Holland, author of the recent book, "Black Men Built the Capitol." Now, with Obama's inauguration, historians are hoping that the role of slaves in the history of building Washington will become more widely recognized.

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