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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: September 23, 2005
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

Committee is put in place to guide slavery memorial

The historians and civic leaders will oversee the project honoring George Washington's slaves.

A group of historians and civic leaders will oversee the memorial to the first presidential residence on Independence Mall and the slaves who lived there during George Washington's administration.

The city and Independence National Historical Park jointly determined the committee's composition, the most prominent evidence so far of the city's new role in helping to shape the site.

Dennis Reidenbach, acting park superintendent, said the park would work closely with the city to bring the memorial to fruition.

The nation's first executive mansion, known widely as the President's House, was on what is now Independence Mall at Sixth and Market Streets.

More than three years ago, Congress directed the park "to appropriately commemorate" both the house and the slaves who lived there. As a result, the park came up with a $4.5 million conceptual plan, which was roundly criticized by some scholars and community leaders.

In the fall of 2003, at the ceremony surrounding the moving of the Liberty Bell into its new home, Mayor Street announced that the city would contribute $1.5 million toward completion of the memorial, which is believed to be the nation's first such tribute to slaves.

City funds have now been utilized to reopen the design process, and the city has taken over its management.

Just two weeks ago, U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, both Philadelphia Democrats, announced that $3.6 million in federal funds would be devoted to the project.

Officials now are aiming to complete the project by July 4, 2007.

"There is a compelling obligation to illuminate the full history of this place and all its inhabitants," Street said in announcing formation of the oversight committee. The panel will be charged with making certain that all those who lived at the house during the residence of Washington and his successor, John Adams, will be fully represented in the memorial.

Members of the committee include Romona Riscoe Benson, interim president and chief executive officer of the African American Museum in Philadelphia; Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, and a founding member of Generations Unlimited, a historical activist group; and attorney Michael Coard, a founding member of the activist Avenging the Ancestors Coalition.

Other members are Tanya Hall, executive director of the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress; Edward Lawler Jr., a historian representing the Independence Hall Association; and Charlene Mires, associate professor of history at Villanova University and editor of the Pennsylvania History Studies Series, representing the Ad Hoc Historians.

Reidenbach; John Skief, chief administrative officer of the Harambee Institute of Science Technology Charter School, representing Fattah; Karen Warrington, Brady's director of communications; and Joyce Wilkerson, Street's chief of staff, round out the committee.


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