Philip Reid (c. 1820 — February 6, 1892) was an African American master craftsman and artisan who played a key role as the foreman in the casting of the Statue of Freedom sculpture atop the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. He was born into slavery in South Carolina's historic city of Charleston.
Commissioned in 1855, the initial full-size plaster model of Freedom was completed by American sculptor Thomas Crawford in his studio in Rome, Italy, but he died suddenly in 1857 before it left his studio. Shipped by his widow, packed into six crates, it finally arrived in Washington in late March 1859 and was then assembled and put on display in the Old Hall of the House, now National Statuary Hall.
In May 1860, self-taught sculptor Clark Mills was awarded the contract by the Secretary of War to cast Freedom at his foundry off Bladensburg Road, just inside the District of Columbia. In June 1860, casting of the statue began. The first step was to disassemble the plaster model for the statue into its five main sections in order to move it from the Capitol to the foundry. After its arrival at the Capitol an Italian sculptor, according to Mills' son Fisk, was hired to assemble it.
However, when the time came to separate the sections, the Italian sculptor refused to help unless given a pay raise. Fortunately, Philip Reid figured out that using a pulley and tackle to pull up on the lifting ring at the top of the model would reveal the joints between the sections. The statue was successfully separated into its five sections and transported to Mills' Foundry.
The government rented Mills’s foundry for $400 a month and supplied the materials, fuel and labor to cast the statue. Because of this arrangement, the names of the craftsmen and laborers were recorded each day in Mills’ monthly report. Philip Reid was listed as a “laborer” and was paid $1.25 a day, while other laborers were paid $1 day. There is no evidence that any of other men listed as laborers were black or enslaved. An enslaved worker was paid directly if he worked on Sunday; his owner received the payment for his work the other six days. Only Philip Reid was paid directly by the government for working on 33 Sundays.
Amid the Civil War, work on Freedom continued. Arriving in pieces, she was cast at the Clark Mill's Foundry near Bladensburg, Maryland, under the care, ironically, of a mulatto slave.
On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act abolishing involuntary servitude in the District of Columbia, and district slave owners were allowed to petition for compensation. Clark Mills petitioned for compensation for eleven slaves, including Philip Reid, and included a description of Reid in the petition. Mills wrote that Reid was “aged 42 years, mullatto [sic] color, short in statue, in good health, not prepossessing in appearance but smart in mind, a good workman in a foundry…” Mills asked $1500 for Reid, but received only $350.40.
It is not known if Reid witnessed the assembly of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome, but he was a free man when the last piece was put into place in December 1863. Two years later, in 1865, author S.D. Wyeth wrote in The Federal City, “Mr. Reed [as his name was spelled during the rest of his life], the former slave, is now in business for himself, and highly esteemed by all who know him.” Afterwards he was listed as "Philip Reed" in city directories and census records as a “plasterer.” In 1870 he was listed along with a wife, Jane, whom he had married in June 1862, and a two-year-old son. In 1880 his wife was listed as Mary P., a laundress.
Death records state that he lived into his seventies and died on February 6, 1892. Though he was initially laid to rest at Graceland Cemetery within view of the Capitol, research revealed that Philip Reid was disinterred and reburied in Columbian Harmony Cemetery in 1895. This cycle repeated itself when he was disinterred and reburied in National Harmony Memorial Park in 1959. On April 16, 2014, the 152nd anniversary of Emancipation in Washington, D.C., a memorial plaque was dedicated to Philip Reed in the cemetery that is now his final resting place.
In an address to Congress 70 years later, a long-time admirer of Lady Freedom, William A. Cox, recalled the facts surrounding Freedom's construction:
"... the facts are that [Freedom's] successful taking apart and handling in parts as a model was due to the faithful service and genius of an intelligent negro in Washington named Philip Reed (sic), a mulatto slave owned by Mr. Clark Mill, and that much credit is due him for his faithful and intelligent services rendered in modeling and casting America's superb Statue of Freedom, which kisses the first rays of the aurora of the rising sun as they appear upon the apex of the Capitol's wonderful dome." (Congressional Record (1928), 1200)