Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom
Booklist (Feb 2014)
On December 2, 1863, a bronze statue called Freedom was placed atop the dome of the recently completed
U.S. Capitol Building. But how was it constructed? To answer this question, we must first begin on a
Charleston, South Carolina, farm, where a 10-year-old slave named Philip Reid works with a blacksmith
and a potter, pumping bellows and stoking the kiln. When a craftsman named Clark Mills arrives to create
a plaster molding on the walls and ceilings of Reid’s master’s home, Reid helps by holding the ladder
steady; at the end of the project, Mills buys Philip for $1,500 and makes him his assistant in his
Washington, D.C., foundry casting objects in bronze. The government hires Mills to cast the Freedom
statue, but when they arrive at the Capitol to obtain the plaster model, there’s a problem: nobody can
detect the plaster’s seams and, therefore, can’t dismantle the gigantic statue to move it. But Reid finds a
way. This book about a little-known historical figure and event includes fascinating endpapers, which are
Reid’s purchase papers, and an epilogue featuring Reid’s pay stub from the foundry ($1.25 per day).
Christie’s rich acrylic gouache illustrations evocatively convey Reid’s life as a slave and his work in the
foundry. An important piece of history for kids to know.