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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: July 3, 2002
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

A protest today seeks memorial to slaves

A memorial honoring President George Washington's slaves - and by extension all enslaved Africans brought to North America - should be erected near the Liberty Bell pavilion now under construction, a group of black leaders said yesterday.

The group will lead a demonstration at the construction site at 4 p.m. today to press the point. The group met yesterday at the Girard Avenue office of State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.).

"We want to memorialize the fact that our ancestors in and around Sixth and Chestnut were brought there, forced there by a white man, George Washington," said educator and author Edward Robinson Jr. "He bought them, body and soul, and we want to memorialize them, not just as our ancestors, but as people."

The $12 million Liberty Bell Center, which should be open in a year, is being built at the spot where Washington quartered slaves when he lived in the nation's first executive mansion near Sixth and Market Streets.

After media accounts noting the proximity of the bell's new home and the slave quarters, the National Park Service agreed to expand its discussion of slavery at the pavilion and throughout the park. How to acknowledge the residence of Washington and his successor, John Adams, who opposed slavery, as well as Washington's slaves and other residents of the house, is an open issue, park officials have said.

Attorney Michael Coard, an organizer of the group, which calls itself the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, said that African Americans should be called upon to plan the monument and remembrance.

"We want a monument, a memorial, a bold, serious structure that people can see and touch, just like they touch the Liberty Bell," Coard said.

Said Charles Blockson, curator of the Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University: "We need a memorial there. Why not a memorial? A memorial to enslaved ancestors means more to me than the Liberty Bell."


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