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Source: Philadelphia Tribune
Date: September 19, 2006
Byline: Janae Hoffler

Groups Working to settle dispute

Local organizations unhappy over direction of monument for slaves

Temple University historian Charles Blockson has called for a public community meeting between Avenging the Ancestors Coalition and Generations Unlimited to "iron out" differences over the proposed slave memorial at the Liberty Bell Center.

Though members of Generations Unlimited purport that no bad blood exists between the two organizations, they are unhappy with the proposed plans for the slave memorial and that whites are involved in the design of the memorial.

The memorial outside the Liberty Bell, which has been designed to mark the site of The President's House that stood at 6th and Market streets during the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, would feature exhibits about the slaves who lived in the house.

Blockson said that the President's House as a tourist site is overshadowing the story of the slaves.

"We should honor the enslaved Africans and not the house itself," Blockson said.

"It would be demeaning to the ancestors to even mention the house or focus the house. Otherwise it should not be a memorial unless all the enslaved Africans, the known and unknown enslaved Africans and other people of African descent that will go in with the site."

Blockson said he would like a public meeting between the two organizations; however Michael Coard of the coalition said no such requests have been made directly to him.

"If you're really serious about doing something, why call up WURD, why call WHAT, with all respect to The Tribune, why call up (those media) rather than resolve the problem?" Coard said.

Coard also added that Mayor John Street attended a meeting Aug. 10 during which time any rumors, misconceptions or concerns were aired and responded to, and that none of the people from Generations Unlimited were there.

Blockson also said the exhibit at the National Constitution Center of the designs by the five semifinalist teams, which include historians, architects and designers, should have opened at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

"It's a slap in the face to have it at the Constitution Center, then have it at the African American Museum. Why couldn't they have it there first?" Blockson said.

Coard said the project, which is commissioned with federal approval and will be at a site where thousands of people will view for the first time the history of American slavery, is too important to worry about the location of the exhibit.

He called the argument "much ado about nothing."

"This project is too important to lose sight of the real issue," Coard said.

Blockson said he's concerned about whites sanitizing the interpretation of slavery.

"If it's not done right, a despicable image of enslavement will hover over that site," Blockson said. Coard said the coalition and the total of 26 African Americans on the teams would make sure the significance and contribution of Africans in American freedom are told.

Webmaster's note: minor corrections were made for clarity.

 

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