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Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Date: July 3, 2002
Byline: Solomon Jones

History Lesson

Today at 4 p.m., on the eve of the Independence Day celebration, the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC, pronounced "attack") plans to hold a demonstration that will begin at the Liberty Bell, at Fifth and Market sts., and make its way to the site of the former Robert Morris mansion near Sixth and Ranstead. The demonstration will be held to protest the National Park Service's decision to build a $12.6 million Liberty Bell pavilion on top of the site where eight slaves held by George Washington were housed. ATAC is a coalition of black elected officials, religious leaders, business leaders, lawyers, community activists and neighbors. The group has mounted a letter-writing campaign in an effort to force the Park Service to build a monument to the eight slaves who were held at the site of the home of Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris. Morris' mansion was used as the nation's first presidential residence. What most people don't know, says attorney Michael Coard, who is leading the protest, is that Morris made a portion of his money as a slave trader. "The revolution was won with blood money--our blood," Coard says. "Black folks are an essential part of the story. What we're saying to the National Park Service is: If you're about history, you have to tell the whole story. When folks come from Australia and Japan, when they see and touch the Liberty Bell, we want them to see those who made freedom possible. We're not out to discredit George Washington or anyone else. We're just saying: Tell the truth, tell the whole truth and tell nothing but the truth." The protest is the second phase in a three-part plan to help bring about the monument. If the National Park Service will not sit down with the group and come to an agreement after the protest, Coard says the group will be left with no choice but to sue. The National Park Service, for its part, remains in a wait-and-see mode. With the Liberty Bell pavilion already under construction and the plans for monuments not yet in place, it's impossible to say what will end up on display, says National Park Service spokesperson Phil Sheridan. "There are certain rules about monuments or memorials, and at a certain level it's not possible for the National Park Service to approve them. There comes a point where it has to be approved through the Congress." Whether that would be the case would depend on how big the memorial or monument would be. But, he says, the National Park Service--which has secured the help of six respected historians, including local African-American historian Charles Blockson--wants to get it right. "It is clearly our intention to tell the story of slavery and the story of the people who were there," Sheridan says. "The question becomes: What is a memorial and what is a monument?"

 

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