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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: November 1, 2002
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

Full story on Washington's slaves vowed at bell site

A complete story of President George Washington's slaves will be told at Independence National Historical Park, officials said yesterday at a private meeting involving African American leaders, historians, and an architectural-design team.

Participants at the meeting, which was closed to the public and media, said the National Park Service appeared ready to commemorate the house where Washington and then John Adams lived during their presidencies in the 1790s.

"The commitment is real... to getting it right," said Edward Lawler Jr., an independent historian and authority on the Washington residence, which was located near the corner of Sixth and Market Streets.

Lawler said park officials affirmed their desire "both to commemorate the existence of slaves in the executive mansion and the executive mansion itself."

How to address the question of Washington's slaves and the house that he and Adams lived in before the national capital moved to Washington in 1800 has bedeviled the Park Service for most of this year.

Early last spring it was reported that the Liberty Bell's new pavilion, now under construction along Sixth Street south of Market, was situated near the spot where Washington quartered some of the slaves who served him during his presidency.

The resulting controversy led park officials to rethink the discussion of slavery at the park and to revise Liberty Bell exhibitions to include focused discussion of slavery in the new democratic nation.

Black leaders also called for some kind of slave memorial at the site, and Congress directed officials "to appropriately commemorate" Washington's slaves.

In recent weeks, however, the park appeared to be wavering in its commitment. Preliminary exhibition points posted on its Web site suggested Washington's house bore no "slave quarters," only a "servants hall."

Such statements drew sharp criticism in advance of yesterday's meeting.

Dwight Pitcaithley, chief historian for the Park Service in Washington, said yesterday that no decisions were made at the meeting.

He said there was a "sharing of very general perceptions about the site and expectations of what might go there."

Concerns ranged, he said, from a physical commemoration of Washington's slaves to a discussion of their lives to "making sure the third branch of government - the executive branch - is represented there physically and intellectually."

Designers took all information in and plan to come back to the Park Service within a few weeks with preliminary design ideas, Pitcaithley said.

Both Lawler and Pitcaithley said Independence Park officials said there would be some future public forum to discuss the issues.

Independence Park officials declined to comment on yesterday's meeting.

 

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