Wednesday, December 15, 2010 was a very special day in Philadelphia History. Finally after an eight year struggle the nation now has what is believed to be the first official, federally funded memorial to enslaved men and women from Africa who were forced to America at the hands of slave owners. Michael Coard Esq., the leader of the organization Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, (ATAC), was very key form the grassroots community stand-point of pushing and agitating and then pushing some more, to make sure this project became a reality. Was Michael Coard there at the very beginning of the process. No. But once he learned of the project he embraced what Dr. Charles Blockson, the late Reggie Bryant, Sacare Rhoades, Karen Warrington and a host of others initiated; the movement to have a slave memorial built at 5th and Market Streets, the sight of the Liberty Bell and also the sight of what is known to many historians as “America’s first White House”, where first President George Washington and then President John Adams lived. As history goes, 9 African slaves lived and worked at the President’s House in Philadelphia. So to go and visit Independence Mall at 5th and Market Streets and check out the Liberty Bell, everything, up until now has always looked lovely and rosy. That entire area of our city boasts of America really being formed in this historic city of Philadelphia. After all the Declaration of Independence was written and signed here amongst many other historic notes in history. But what of slavery? What about that dark scar on this nation’s history? When the Declaration of Independence was signed and the fourth of July became the big celebration date for America’s independence, black men and women of African descent, our beloved ancestors weren’t even thought of as more than 3/4th’s human.
I thank God that the initiators of the movement to get a slave memorial at 5th and Market saw the vision and started the work toward making this memorial a reality and I thank God for Michael Coard, Esq and the entire ATAC organization for their tireless efforts over this past eight years.
Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) issued the following statement in conjunction with dedication ceremonies December 15th at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall for the President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation. Congressman Fattah sponsored legislation passed by Congress to instruct the National Park Service to “appropriately commemorate” the historic site and the nine enslaved workers who labored there. Fattah, supported by Congressman Bob Brady (D-PA), secured $3.6 million in federal funds for construction of what is believed to be the first federal monument dedicated to America’s enslaved. “Today’s opening of the President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation is more than the celebration of another monument at the place where America was born. This site recognizes that enslaved Africans were at the center of American history performing an uncommon, unrecognized and indispensible role in the creation of this great nation. “The President’s House focuses on the lives of Presidents George Washington and John Adams who made their home here in the nation’s first executive mansion. Equally important, it brings into focus to life and names, chiseled in granite, of nine men, women and teenagers enslaved to George Washington: Austin, Christopher, Giles, Hercules, Joe, Moll, Oney Judge, Paris and Richmond, who lived and worked here as well. They are the bridge from the President who owned humans of African descent to our President today, a man of African descent. “We are a diverse nation, drawn from many races, ethnicities and faiths. Visitors to the site, coming from all our diversity, will have a better understanding of the glaring contradiction between the fight for America’s freedom and the entrapment of African slaves. It is a visual history lesson designed to inspire examination of a dark period in our nation’s history, as well as inspiring our hope and vision for true freedom. I am proud to have been a part in the creation and construction of this important memorial.”
ATAC is a broad-based coalition of historians, activists, attorneys, elected officials, religious leaders, media personalities, and other tax-paying voters — descendants of the victims of the greatest holocaust in the history of humankind. ATAC has the active support of Black (and other) elected officials throughout Pennsylvania.
Here’s the official description of what this Slave Memorial is all about,--Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation. It is a commemorative site situated at the location where both George Washington and John Adams served their terms as Presidents of the United States of America. The site gives voice to the long-obscured story of at least nine enslaved African descendants who toiled at the house during George Washington's presidency. The site embodies a profound contradiction during the infancy of the United States — the same home that witnessed the birth of a free nation and its first steps toward democracy also sustained the indefensible enslavement of individuals. The names of the nine documented enslaved individuals are: Austin, Christopher, Giles, Hercules, Joe, Moll, Oney, Paris and Richmond.
In order to usher the project along and to take responsibility for true oversight, a special committee was established. The President's House Oversight Committee was formed in September 2005 by the City of Philadelphia to guide the project's development. The members of this committee were Clarence D. Armbrister, Chief of Staff, City of Philadelphia, Charles L. Blockson, Curator Emeritus, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, Michael Coard, Esq., Founding Member, Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, Doris Fanelli, Ph.D., Chief, Division of Cultural Resources Management, Independence National Historical Park, Hal Fichandler, Special Assistant to City Council, City of Philadelphia, Tanya Hall, Executive Director, Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Charles Hayden, Judge, Municipal Court of Philadelphia, Melanie Johnson, City Representative, City of Philadelphia, Edward Lawler, Jr., Scholar, Representing the Independence Hall Association, Charlene Mires, Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) and Associate Prof. of History, Rutgers-Camden; Ad Hoc Historians Representative, Romona Riscoe Benson, President & CEO, African American Museum in Philadelphia, The late John Skief, Representative for the Honorable Chaka Fattah, U.S. House of Representatives, Harambee Charter School, Karen Warrington, Director of Communications, Office of the Honorable Robert A. Brady, U.S. House of Representatives and Joyce Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff, City of Philadelphia, Administration of Mayor John F. Street. December 15, 2010, this was a proud day in Philadelphia’s history and in our nation’s history. We cannot erase the horrors and atrocities of slavery just like our Jewish friends cannot erase the nightmare of their Holocaust. But we can remember and pay tribute to our ancestors who carried the burden. Who helped build up this nation and for the untold millions who died along the road of slavery.
FYI — This Saturday stop by Hakim’s Bookstore at 210 N. 52nd Street as I broadcast my radio program, “WURD Magazine” live inside Hakim’s Book Store and in support of the 52nd Street Business Association. We’ll be there from 1pm-3pm. Stop by and say hello to your friends at 900AM WURD! Listen to all our programs on line at www.900amwurd.com.