The House Appropriations Committee in Washington yesterday called on the National Park Service "to appropriately commemorate" the slaves who toiled in the household of President George Washington when he lived in the nation's first "White House" in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1797.
In an amendment attached to a $19.7 billion Interior Department budget bill, the committee also called for commemoration of the house itself, where first Washington and then his successor John Adams lived until the White House in Washington was built in 1800.
The Philadelphia house, owned by financier Robert Morris and widely known as the President's House or Executive Mansion, stood on the south side of Market Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. It was largely torn down in the 1830s.
The Appropriations Committee instructed the National Park Service, which is overseeing a complete redesign of Independence National Historical Park, to report on the progress it is making toward "appropriate" commemoration by March 2003.
"It is important that the Park Service, which is funded with taxpayer dollars, understand the importance of and acknowledge the existence of slavery at the Executive Mansion," Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Phila.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, said yesterday. "The language [in the amendment] is important because it requires the Park Service to take appropriate note of the historic significance of George Washington and the Executive Mansion. But most important, it requires the Park Service to appropriately recognize [Washington's] eight African slaves."
Michael Coard, a Philadelphia lawyer who is a founding member of a group calling for construction of a memorial honoring Washington's slaves - and by extension all African captives brought to North America - said his group was "ecstatic" about the House legislation, which passed unanimously.
"But we need to know how it is going to be implemented, the nuts and bolts of it," Coard said. "It's a step in the right direction."
Phil Sheridan, spokesman for Independence Park, said the Park Service also supported the legislation.
"It says what we've been saying for a while now - that we support appropriate acknowledgement of the President's House," Sheridan said, noting that the amendment "did not call for a memorial per se."
Said Sheridan: "We do want to recognize the people who lived there. We do want to recognize that slavery existed there during the time of the Washington presidency."
The House budget bill now goes to the Senate. Fattah said he expected the amendment to remain when the legislation is finally enacted.