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Source: Preservation Matters
Date: Spring 2008
Byline: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

Community Service Awards: Edward Lawler, Jr. and Avenging the Ancestors Coalition

From 1790 to 1797 President George Washington lived in a house rented from Robert Morris at 6th and Market streets. This was the first official residence of the President of the United States. The house was demolished in the 1830s and the site was subsequently developed as part of Independence Mall. Beginning in the 1990s when a new plan was being developed for the mall, there were public calls to commemorate the President's House. In response to this public interest, Edward Lawler, Jr. (left),the historian of the Independence Hall Association, began researching the President's House in 1996. His research was first published in 2002 and again in 2005 in the scholarly journal of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Lawler's research documented the history and the design of the house and the presence of slave quarters and enslaved Africans. Lawler's careful research was instrumental in subsequent efforts to commemorate the house and honor the enslaved African descendants who lived there.

The commemoration of the nine enslaved African descendants who lived at the President's House was taken up by the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, a group of historians, activists, attorneys, religious leaders and others. Beginning in 2002 the Coalition worked tirelessly to persuade the National Park Service and the Independence National Historical Park to agree to create a commemorative project on the site of the President's House that included highlighting the slave quarters and those who lived there. Through its efforts--and with the assistance of Mayor John Street, Congressman Chaka Fattah and Congressman Robert Brady--$1.5 million in City funds and $3.6 million in federal funds have been appropriated for the project.

ATAC has been led by one of its founders, Michael Coard Esq. Michael Coard is a criminal defense attorney whose practice focuses on legal advocacy for African American defendants. He is also adjunct professor of Hip Hop in the African American Studies Department at Temple University, a member of the local board of the ACLU and a member of the NAACP.

 

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