Museum set for historic area
Philadelphia — the birthplace of American freedom and democracy — will soon be home to a permanent installation that not only chronicles the first White House, but commemorates the slaves who worked and lived there.
The finding in 2002 that George Washington's nine slaves had been housed on a site near the current Liberty Bell location caused an uproar in the black community.
The thinking was that if a new center were built there to honor the first presidents, it must include proper notation of the slaves who also lived there.
The result of discussions and debate will be unveiled in October — the President's House, a permanent installation, at the entrance to the Liberty Bell Center, 6th and Market streets.
"This is a very special day," said Mayor Street at a news conference yesterday in the Constitution Center.
He announced that the minority architectural firm Kelly/Maiello's model has been chosen for the President's House.
"This was a process, and people had very strong emotions about this," Street added.
Street was able to come up with $1.5 million for the project, while U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Robert Brady got a $3.5 million federal grant.
A scale model of the installation was displayed at the news conference.
"You can't have reconciliation without truth," Fattah said.
"This is an appropriate commemoration.
"It will be illustrated in such a way that it will bring thousands of visitors to see a part of the history of this nation."
Once the Liberty Bell was moved, it was found that the new location was once the spot where both Washington and President John Adams lived from 1790 to 1800.
"Two million visitors a year will finally be told the truth, the whole truth," said Michael Coard, lawyer and founder of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, or ATAC.
He said the architects outlined the slave quarters and made sure they were clearly defined.
"They made sure that the slavery-commemoration component was a prominent part of the project, and that's one of the reasons ATAC pushed it," he said.
Coard said that Kelly/Maiello's final version also will include an audio/video hookup, complete with a number of large LCD screens.
Coard sits on the oversight committee for the project. The group also includes Tanya Hall, of the Multicultural Affairs Congress; Romona Riscoe Benson, of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and Dennis Reidenbach, of Independence National Historical Park.
Street emphasized that the fact that a minority-led firm won the contract shouldn't be the focus.
"This was a serious competition," Street said.
"When people compete, win and are selected, it does a disservice to suggest they didn't do it on merit."
Before the building starts, architects will conduct a final dig at the location to ensure there are no remnants from the original President's House, Reidenbach said.
A viewing platform will be set up so the public can watch the dig.
Fattah said the money raised for this project was minimal, compared to what Americans would have lost if the project did not go forward.
"We provided a bit more funding than what was requested," Fattah said.
"But ignorance of these truths has cost us so much more.
"This will be a true telling and will add truth to the efforts of reconciliation."