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Source: Times Leader
Date: November 7, 2004
Byline: Associated Press

Still no acknowledgment of slavery at Liberty Bell site

PHILADELPHIA — More than two years ago, Congress directed the National Park Service to "appropriately commemorate" the slaves kept by George Washington at the first presidential mansion in Philadelphia, just steps away from where the Liberty Bell now hangs.

But the site — now a wide sidewalk along Market Street — is still vacant and unacknowledged, angering some black leaders and scholars who accuse the park service of dragging its feet.

Should it be realized, the commemoration at Independence National Historical Park would become the first federal memorial to slavery in the nation.

"We have to tell the truth, whether it hurts or not," said Charles Blockson, curator of the Blockson collection of African American materials at Temple University. "In the city of Philadelphia, it's never been told."

Park Superintendent Mary Bomar said that she and her staff agreed that the spot in front of the Liberty Bell Center should be demarcated as the site where some of Washington's slaves had lived.

Some park officials had previously resisted the idea, saying it could not be documented conclusively that the site had been used as a slave quarters. But after an Oct. 30 forum on the subject, Bomar said her staff now accepted the argument that slaves and white servants lived on the spot.

That could be the basis for the placement of a temporary acknowledgment, but a larger plan to commemorate Washington's slaves and the Presidents' House, where Washington and John Adams lived and worked, has no funding, she said.

"We're not sweeping anything under the rug," Bomar told the forum. "Nothing would suit me better than to move forward on this project."

Bomar said last week that she would push agency officials in Philadelphia and in Washington to come up with the funds for the $4.5 million project. The city has pledged $1.5 million already.

By clearly marking the slave quarters, visitors to the Liberty Bell would metaphorically "pass from the hell of slavery into the heaven of liberty" as they entered the center, said Michael Coard, a leader of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, which has been pushing for a full commemorative memorial on the site.

 

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