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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: January 22, 2009
Byline: Stephanie Farr

President's House gets $3.5M grant: Project honoring leaders,slaves set for 2010

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David Maialetti
Former Mayor John Street (center) gets Mayor Nutter (left) and Gov. Rendell to laugh at news conference yesterday discussing funding for construction of President's House.

Just one day after the nation inaugurated its first black president, Gov. Rendell requested a $3.5 million grant from the Delaware River Port Authority to complete the President's House on Independence Mall, where the nation's first leader kept slaves.

"Given the events of yesterday . . . this project has greater significance now than it has ever," said former Mayor John F. Street, who is credited with securing the initial funding for the project during his administration.

Rendell, who was joined at a news conference yesterday by Street, Mayor Nutter and project officials, said that the funding would not come from recent toll increases but from unused restricted funds dating to the 1990s that were designated for economic development.

The President's House project is a commemorative effort to erect an installation exhibit not only to mark the spot where the mansion that housed the first two presidents once stood, but also to honor the nine slaves that George Washington held there.

"It certainly will tell the story of achievement . . . but it is also a story of infamy," Rendell said.

In 2002, thanks in large part to the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition — which, the group's founder Michael Coard said, raised signs, hell and history to get the slaves recognized — a push was made to commemorate the lives and contributions of Washington's slaves.

In 2007, archaeologists unearthed the slave quarters during an excavation that drew more than 300,000 onlookers.

The commemorative installation, expected to be completed in 2010, will consist of a walk-through memorial of "incomplete walls" or "architectural fragments" where the first White House house once stood, according to design materials.

A glass building, called a "vitrine," will enclose the dig sites so visitors can see the findings without disturbing them.

Rendell said that $7.1 million had been raised so far for the $8.4 million project. The money he is requesting from a DRPA committee today will close that gap and provide an endowment of about $2 million for upkeep.

Nutter said that he has asked President Obama to attend Philadelphia's July 4th celebration this year and the unveiling of the President's House project when it opens.

Project director Rosalyn J. McPherson noted the significance of the timing of the installation's scheduled opening.

"There's an irony," she said, "that when this site is completed, it will be completed when we have an African-American president in office."

 

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