A crowd of nearly 60 organizers, Black historians and residents joined activist attorney Michael Coard on Thursday to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Slave Memorial at the President’s House at Sixth and Market streets.
Coard, a member of the organization Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), recalled the opening of the memorial last year. The memorial commemorates the nine slaves kept at the site who were owned by America’s first president, George Washington.
“Wednesday, December 15 Mayor Michael Nutter stood just a few feet from where we are now, cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the first and only slavery memorial on federal property in the history of the United States of America,” said Coard, whose statement was greeted with applause.
“No place else at no other time has there ever been a memorial contribution to enslaved Africans in the history of America on federal property.”
Those attending the anniversary included school children on a field trip, Pam Africa of MOVE, and music icon Kenny Gamble.
“This is a wonderful turnout and I’m glad to be a part of it. We as a people must know and fulfill our destiny. We must ask ourselves, ‘Why did this happen to us?’ and we must work together to make this a better world,” said Gamble, who is also a member of Avenging the Ancestors.
“I’m here to support ATAC, I’m a member of the organization and I support this effort because the more awareness that, not only African people but all people, have about the plight and journey of the children of the slaves and our ancestors, the better this country is going to be.”
Gamble said he attended the event to honor his ancestors.
Rahim Islam of Universal Companies, founded by Gamble, agreed.
“One of the most important things which I think this event signals is how much we don’t know about our own existence. So I’m dedicating the rest of my life to try to get as much information as I can get to create a way so that we can pass this information on to our children, so they don’t have to start where I’m starting at 54, they can learn it in Kindergarten,” said Islam.
“People need to understand the historical importance of what we have here. This site is the only site in the history of America on federal property where a slave memorial exists. This has become our Mount Rushmore, our Liberty Bell, our Stature of Liberty,” said Coard.
He said that when the news that George Washington kept nine slaves at the site where the first White House once stood became public, the Park Service wanted to commemorate Washington without regard to the slaves.
“Well, Black folks came together and we didn’t just get mad, we got even and we organized. The thing that really helped us to win was that we did the one-two punch,” said Coard.
This one-two punch was the combination of activism on the streets by organizers and the collection of historical and intellectual information by historians and scholars. It was this combination that Coard credits with making the difference.
“We were able to raise hell on the streets with the activists and issues in the board room with intellectuals,” he said.