Committee set to oversee creation of the memorial
Steps in commemorating President George Washington's slaves on Independence Mall are moving closer to reality.
Yesterday, Mayor John Street and the Independence National Historical Park established an Oversight Committee to oversee the creation of a site on the mall honoring the President's House and the story of the enslaved Africans who lived there.
The group's role is to ensure that the project accurately portrays all of the people who lived at the site, make sure the selection and design process provides opportunity for public input, and also supervise the final design.
But progress didn't start with the newly organized committee: Avenging the Ancestors Coalition – which is a broad-based coalition of African historians, community activists and various tax-paying voters in the Philadelphia area – is spearheading all attempts in seeing that the memorial will affectively represent the contributions Africans made to the birth of America.
"This has historic implication all over it, and commemorating the nine known slaves that the former father of our country owned in brutal bondage at America's first White House brings a smile to my face," said ATAC spokesman Michael Coard. "I believe that this could be a place where little Black boys and girls could go to and reflect on what their people did for this country. If little white boys and girls have the Liberty Bell, why can't our Black kids have this?"
The memorial has expectations of being a symbol of history and possibly become Philadelphia's most popular tourist attraction and most importantly, a place where African Americans could embrace the history of their ancestors.
Street pledged the first public support for the project in 2003 when the new Liberty Bell Center opened. He committed $1.5 million in city funds to the project, "The President's House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation." U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Robert Brady recently announced a $3.6 million federal grant that would complete funding for the project.
"We are in the process of sending out RFQs (Request for Qualification) to interested architects, artist, and construction companies who would be interested in working on this project," said Rosalyn McPherson.
McPherson, along with former president and CEO of the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, Terrie Rouse, was hired by the city of Philadelphia to form a consultant group that will manage all operations, namely because of their expertise in knowing how to effectively and efficiently run a project that focus on culture initiatives.
"Our job is to expeditiously get this project under way and moving," McPherson said. "It is rare that you have the money for something and have it running without a hitch."
Besides the two women's strong backgrounds in running culturally driven projects, they are expected to add a sensitive aspect to the memorial: McPherson was instrumental in working with the Franklin Institute as its vice president and Rouse helped in designing the city's Love Park.
"I would like this memorial, when people visit it, to be powerful and something they can talk about," Rouse said. "A memorial that moves me the most out of all, is the Vietnam Memorial. The presentation is elegant and powerful. It brings tears to my eyes when I see people take a pencil and paper and trace the names of their love ones from the wall and onto the paper. I want this memorial to have the same kind of effect."
Rouse said she would like to have the project completed by July 2007.