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Source: Philadelphia Tribune
Date: April 7, 2006
Byline: Kenny Waters

Slave Project narrows choices

Six firms chosen, three based in city

To commemorate the nine known enslaved Africans who lived and worked at America's first recognized White House, Mayor John Street and the Independence National Historic Park (INHP) recently announced the six semifinalists to spearhead this project.

The commemoration, which is expected to be revealed June 2007, will be called the "President's House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation." The name of this slave memorial was chosen because Washington's slaves were quartered in the area that is now known as Independence Mall.

In seeing this project done, the city had over 22 teams with more than 70 firms interested in vying for the chance to create this exhibit.

"We've reached an extraordinary important milepost today," said Mayor Street's Chief of Staff Joyce Wilkerson in a statement released last week, referring to the process of selecting semifinalists.

Wilkerson is also a member of the President's House Oversight Committee comprised of representatives of advocacy groups that petitioned for this project. The group was formed to assure that this part of history was remembered.

"We now have in place six tremendously talented teams," said Wilkerson. "Each has the potential to develop an unforgettable experience on the threshold of the Liberty Bell."

The six semifinalists teams are Amaze Design, Inc., Boston; Davis Buckley Architects & Planning Consultants, Washington, D.C.; Dommert Phillips, PC, Wells Appel Land Strategies, and Nason Construction, Inc., Philadelphia; Ewing Cole, Philadelphia; Howard and Revis Design, Washington, D.C.; and Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners Inc., Philadelphia.

Before the finalist starts on the memorial, the Mayor along with INHP's Superintendent Dennis Reidenbach said that before the commemoration is installed, archeologist would search the grounds to determine if any artifacts or information remain from the first Executive Mansion.

"I think this is a good idea," said acting public affairs officer for INHP Frances Delmar. "This will maybe answer the questions once and for all about how much of the building remains below ground."

Delmar also said that she is doubtful they would find anything, but because of her experience in archaeology she is not counting out the element of surprise in finding something.

The history of this location is that during the time when slavery was outlawed in Pennsylvania, it's reported President George Washington lived on 6th and Market streets and held at least nine enslaved Africans in brutal bondage.

In addition to slaves being held here, this was also the same home where Washington signed the Slave Act of 1793 and where the Declaration of Independence was also drafted.

The Slave Act allowed slave hunters to capture an escapee in any territory and orally confirm before a state or federal judge that the person was a runaway. The law also imposed a $500 fine to those found guilty of aiding a fugitive.

The owner's representative for the memorial, Roz McPherson, said that this is something that is worth celebrating and commemorating, and which ever firm wins, will have their hands full with this project.

"The challenge here is this site is not a big site," she said. "In other words, the site is not just a commemoration to these nine individuals; it's the story of the first executive mansion."

McPherson, along with former president and CEO of the African-American Museum Terri Rouse, who is also an owner's representative, were both appointed these positions by the city of Philadelphia, mainly because of their expertise in working with culturally exclusive initiatives.

Rouse's resume includes being the former President and CEO of the African-American Museum, and also being instrumental in the design of "Love Park." McPherson's track record consist of now being the president of RJM Consulting Group — a strategic marketing and product development business, and also serving as the former and first Black Vice-President of the Franklin Institute.

"It has to be powerful," said Rouse. "I would like the memorial to illustrate, 'freedom, slavery, and the making of a nation."

 

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