Public comment to be sought on design to be built near Liberty Bell.
Americans now have the chance to voice their opinions on a national memorial that will commemorate slavery on the doorstep of liberty.
Five finalists have been chosen for "The President's House," which will mark the spot one block from Independence Hall where George Washington lived with his wife and several slaves. At the time, Philadelphia was the country's capital.
The models that went on display Wednesday are the result of what some historians describe as an effort over a number of years to get the National Park Service to acknowledge that the roots of freedom are entwined with slavery.
"[It's] a history that is uncomfortable but necessary because it's so central to the American story," said Randall Miller, a history professor at St. Joseph's University.
The mansion where Washington lived from 1790 to 1797 housed about nine slaves, two of whom escaped to freedom. President John Adams, who never owned slaves, subsequently lived there for three years. The house was demolished in the 1830s.
Today, the site lies on the northwest corner of Independence Mall just steps from the Liberty Bell pavilion. Memorials being considered visually incorporate the footprint of the presidential house without rebuilding the structure.
"It's such an emotional site," said Jane Cowley, spokeswoman for Independence National Historical Park. "It's a very thought-provoking issue."
One design includes a large, transparent archway with a reproduction of the slave census from Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Va. Another features an open plaza with scattered bronze bas-reliefs.
All five models are on display at the National Constitution Center through Sept. 13 and will be shown online soon at http://www.phila.gov/presidentshouse/ . People from all over the country are encouraged to fill out evaluation forms.
"This is a national memorial," Cowley said.
The public's comments will be considered by a committee of city officials, park service representatives and community members in choosing a winner later this fall. The plan is to have the design built and dedicated by October 2007.
The cost of the memorial, which will cover about 12,000 square feet, will depend on which proposal is selected. The city has pledged $1.5 million for the project, supplemented by a $3.6 million federal grant.