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Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Date: July 31, 2002
Byline: Solomon Jones

Dollars and Sense

The Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC), a branch of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, has joined the fight to have a memorial built to honor eight Africans enslaved by George Washington in America's first "White House," near Sixth and Ranstead streets. But while a coalition of community leaders and lawmakers called the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) has called on the National Park Service to build the memorial in the name of historical accuracy, MAC Executive Director Tanya Hall has asked the NPS to act based on dollars and cents. Her argument is especially relevant now that the labor problems at the Pennsylvania Convention Center have prompted a sharp decline in repeat convention business, because the money brought in by African-American tourism might decline in the face of any perceived indifference to black issues. "One out of every four visitors to our region is an African-American traveler, which translates into $80 million each year for our economy," Hall wrote in an open letter last week. In addition to that, Hall noted, the largest convention to take place in Philadelphia this year will be held by the National Baptist Convention--the largest African-American religious organization in America. The convention is expected to pump $40 million into the local economy, thus continuing the trend that has made Philadelphia the No. 1 destination for minority tourists for more than 10 years running. "To slow down this momentum would be senseless," Hall wrote. MAC joined the fray after the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee called on NPS to "appropriately commemorate" the eight enslaved Africans held by Washington. Though MAC set up a meeting with representatives from the two sides in the debate, Sacaree Rhodes of ATAC and Dennis Reidenbach, acting superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, there is still no concrete agreement on the memorial. The National Park Service has said through spokesperson Phil Sheridan that it is willing to build a memorial. But if the cost of the memorial reaches a certain point (they don't know what that point is), it would require congressional approval. (S.J.)


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