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Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Date: July 30, 2003
Byline: Mike Newall

Taking a Toll

The National Park Service (NPS) this week confirmed Oct. 9 as the opening date for the new Liberty Bell Center.

The bell's $12.6 million new digs--located on Sixth Street between Market and Chestnut streets--are still under construction. And officials still have yet to finalize a way to move the bell from its current home.

"It won't take three weeks, but it won't take three minutes either," says Independence National Historical Park spokesperson Phil Sheridan. "It's a 250-year-old bell, and it's already cracked."

Transporting the bell safely isn't the only dilemma facing Park Service officials.

The Center is being built on the same ground where the Robert Morris Mansion--America's first presidential residence--once stood. George Washington kept eight slaves while he lived in the house.

After the site was chosen as the new home for the Liberty Bell, local African-Americans insisted that it include a memorial recognizing the stain of slavery in Philadelphia's past.

The NPS originally declared there was no positive proof that Washington ever did keep slaves while living in the Morris Mansion, and proposed including an exhibit that would discuss slavery in general.

A letter-writing campaign ensued, and eventually Congress granted funds to ensure an "appropriate commemoration" of the eight slaves.

This past January the NPS released a preliminary plan for a memorial that outlined the general themes of what they felt it should encompass.

"The idea is that we had enslaved people in Philadelphia and a free black community," Sheridan recently told the Germantown Courier while discussing the NPS' intentions, "and how the interaction of both communities led to the freedoms that we cherish today."

Michael Coard is a spokesperson for the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), a black activist organization that has led the fight for a memorial.

"We have got them from the point of denying to the point of designing," he boasts, "but we will continue to work because we are not overly enthusiastic about what they have proposed."

On July 3 ATAC held a rally at the Liberty Bell Center calling for the NPS to get moving on a memorial. About a hundred people attended. Coard says ATAC is also planning a protest to coincide with the Oct. 9 opening.

 

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