Although Oney Judge died 160 years ago, her life as one of George Washington's house servants has not been forgotten.
A Philadelphia group helped to make sure of that yesterday outside the Liberty Bell Center, at 6th and Market streets, by honoring Judge in a ceremony that included a City Council citation and a proclamation from Mayor Nutter.
A so-called Slave House memorial is planned to be built within a few feet of the Liberty Bell Center. The lead architect, Emmanuel Kelly, and Cynthia MacLeod, superintendent of the National Park Service, both attended yesterday's ceremony.
"At this site, 6th and Market, George Washington, the father of this country, the first president of the United States, owned black human beings as slaves in America's first White House," said Michael Coard, founder of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition.
Coard, a lawyer, said that the public was aware that Washington had owned 316 slaves at his Mount Vernon, Va., plantation, but that "the black community was absolutely shocked that the president of the United States would hold black human beings as slaves at America's first White House.
"That was outrageous."
Judge was one of nine slaves kept by Washington and his wife in Philadelphia. When Judge discovered that Martha Washington was going to give Judge to her eldest granddaughter as a wedding present, Judge, with the help of the generally free blacks living in Philadelphia, fled to New Hampshire. There, she married and had children. She died Feb. 25, 1848.
"Oney Judge has a story that's absolutely riveting," said Coard. "Here you have a 16-year-old girl . . . transported to Philadelphia as a slave. In this case, a real, live human being was about to be given away, and she said, 'No, I'm not going to accept that and not tolerate that.' "
Coard called Judge's escape "courageous" and "absolutely daring."
Not much is known about the nine slaves owned by Washington, other than their names. Judge's birth date is among the mysteries, so Coard's organization decided to commemorate the anniversary of her death.
Joseph Meade, legislative aide to Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, read the City Council citation; Coard then read the proclamation from Nutter.
Coard said that the Slave House memorial would be finished in about 18 months. "The impact of this on African-Americans will resonate," he said. "This will be like our Mount Rushmore, and it will be absolutely historic."