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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: June 13, 2007
Byline: Michael Coard

Letter: White freedom, black slavery

I thank Michael Smerconish for spreading the word (May 31) about the archaeological dig at the President's House site at 6th and Market, where George Washington presided from 1790- 1797 with nine of his 316 enslaved Africans from Mount Vernon.

Smerconish correctly noted that the dig recently uncovered partial foundations of the bow window, the prototype for today's Oval Office. But in regard to the partial foundations of the walls of the kitchen, he is incorrect in noting that the kitchen had a basement so those blacks could move between it and the main house "without going outside."

The real purpose of the basement, like other slavery-related deceptions, was to keep the laborers that Washington enslaved at the house invisible to the genteel white dignitaries that he entertained there.

Also, Smerconish's use of the phrase "lived and worked" to describe what the slaves there is euphemistic. They neither lived nor worked. They suffered and toiled, as would anyone who had his freedom, culture, family, language, land, religion and name violently taken.

He is correct in pointing out that the slave quarters are "right at the entrance of the new Liberty Bell Center," a mere five feet from it. When tourists enter this "heaven of liberty," they first must cross the "hell of slavery." That most certainly is this country's height of historical hypocrisy.

I conditionally agree with his statement that the "current plan to build over" the dig "and its recently unburied treasures (such as the window, walls, etc.) for a commemoration would 'seem' to need a redesign."

But that redesign — or an expansion of the thoroughly impressive current design by the award-winning Kelly/Maiello architectural firm — can happen only if it is physically, financially and legally possible to create a design that will tell the historic truth about white freedom and black slavery at America's first White House.

Michael Coard
Avenging the Ancestors Coalition

 

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