Explanation of Model Provided by Howard+Revis Team
The idea of freedom might be too great a temptation to resist. -George Washington
I am free now and choose to remain so. -Oney Judge, former slave
These two quotes, inscribed into stone walls, capture with few words the promise of the revolutionary concept of Freedom unleashed by the Declaration of Independence . Our goal in this project will be to capture the fiercesome force of the struggle between this founding principle and its antithesis:Slavery. How these two tenets could live side-by-side is the question which dominates our early history through the Civil War, and arguably, up through the present day. An acknowledgement of this moral struggle at our nation's front stoop is a profound gesture.
To make this basic struggle between Enlightenment ideals and the institution of slavery legible to the visitor, we have strengthened the reading of the two parallel worlds: George Washington's realm and the realm of his slaves. This basic dichotomy should be immediately apparent to even the most casual visitor by comparing sculptural figures in the main house with those in the back buildings. These sculptural figures are not monumental "frozen" statues, but are engaged in the work of the day, the business of running the Executive Branch of Government contrasted with the business of supporting Washington 's household. Their thoughts and activities appear as quotes inscribed into the granite that forms the plaza. Furniture and architectural fragments incorporated into the sculptural groupings suggest the architectural envelope of the President's House while keeping attention focused squarely on the life within. A touchable bronze model of the house at the entrance to the Plaza fills in what the mind cannot conjure.
As they traverse the plaza and read labels and inscriptions, visitors will learn that the world of Philadelphia is not just black and white, slave and free. The period of time captured by this commemoration is a critical transition point for the country, and Philadelphia is the pivot point. As the locus of Constitutional arguments over freedom and slavery, a center for abolitionist activity and home to a politically- active free African community, Philadelphia and its residents embody the national debate. The figures of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen-former slaves, students of the Quaker abolitionist Benezet, and leaders of the free African community-represent the lure of freedom and self-governance. The figure of "Black Sam" Fraunces, a New York restaurateur and friend of George Washington from the Revolutionary War period recruited to serve as steward at the President's House, represents the mix of free, unfree and indentured that formed Washington's household and which existed in the nation. Joseph Bunel, an envoy from the Haitian revolutionary government during Adams ' administration and reportedly the first African to have been hosted by a President, suggests the abolitionist sentiments present in the nation (mostly the north) during this period and the significant gains towards independence made by one enslaved group.
The figure of George Washington at his desk wrestling with the crisis caused by the escape of Martha's enslaved attendant, Oney Judge, crystallizes the dilemma of the country. On the one hand, Washington expresses dismay at the institution of slavery and great affection for Oney. On the other hand, his correspondence on the affair reveals that he still considers Oney property and is fundamentally unwilling to acquiesce to her bid for freedom. Of course, he adds, if an anti-slavery riot would result from her forcible return, he is willing to drop the whole affair.
As visitors enter the realm of the slaves, the consequences of slavery become personal and individual. Oney is shown packing her bags to escape, just as the family is preparing to return to Virginia to prevent the slaves from achieving permanent residency in Philadelphia and coming under the considerations of Pennsylvania 's 1780 Gradual Abolition Act. Hercules is a celebrated chef-perhaps the best in the country-and yet he is still enslaved. Even Tobias Lear, Washington 's personal secretary must admit that Washington 's slaves are treated well, "but still they are slaves."
At the back of the plaza, a commemorative bas-relief sculpture gives each of the Washingtons ' slaves the identity and dignity taken away by their enslavement. At the back side of this sculpture, these nine slaves are seen to be part of a multi-generational struggle beginning with the capture and transport by sea of Africans to the New World and culminating in the contemporary protests of the slave's descendants, the activist groups that brought this commemoration into being. The message is simple: Do not hide the history of slavery. Do not forget the suffering and sacrifices and successes of these individuals. Towards this end, the commemoration includes the names of free and enslaved Africans inscribed into the bricks that form the front plaza of the Liberty Bell Visitor Center. To engage the next generation, especially African-American children, we propose to enlist schoolchildren and citizens groups in conducting genealogical research into the names. This outreach program provides an opportunity for the community to become involved in the history and in the project in a meaningful and lasting way.
Lastly, because the history deserves a more complete explication, we have incorporated a series of seven graphic panels into a low wall that captures the queue of visitors to the Liberty Bell Visitor Center , but does not interrupt the stately and memorial-like character of the commemorative plaza. Through historic images, full color illustrations and poignant anecdotes, we hope to tell the full and truthful story.