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Date: February 27, 2007
Byline: Patrick Walters

Monument near Liberty Bell to honor slaves, mark Washington home

PHILADELPHIA — The National Park Service will mark the spot near Independence Hall where George Washington lived with a brick structure that traces the outline of the house and video and audio exhibits that tell the story of the first president and his slaves.

Park service and city officials announced Tuesday that they selected a design by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners to mark the since-demolished Robert Morris House.

Washington and John Adams both lived at the house when Philadelphia was the nation's capital between 1790 and 1800. At least nine of Washington's slaves were also quartered there.

The site on the northwest corner of Independence Mall is just steps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Controversy over the slavery issue was sparked five years ago when city and federal officials began planning a new home for the Liberty Bell, a symbol of the abolitionists. Some historians and black groups protested when it was revealed that bell's new pavilion was near where Washington's slaves once lived.

In 2002, Congress directed the National Park Service to "appropriately commemorate" the slaves kept by George Washington at the first presidential mansion in Philadelphia.

But the project was slowed by disagreement over exactly where the slaves lived, along with a lack of funding. Mayor John F. Street has committed $1.5 million in city funds and the project also has the support of a $3.6 million federal grant.

A committee of historians, community activists and representatives of political leaders sought public input before selecting the final design. The five final memorial proposals incorporated the footprint of the house without rebuilding the structure.

"We didn't get here in the usual kind of way. This wasn't a tea party," Street said Tuesday. "To say that people had very strong emotional feelings about this, would be the understatement of the decade."

Builders of the exhibit, which is expected to open in 2008, will conduct an architectural dig before construction. The dig is expected to take less than a month.


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