The President's House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
On January 23, 2009, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, also chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), urged the board's approval of the use of $3.5 million from the DRPA for the President's House memorial, three days after the inauguration of this nation's first president of African American descent. The memorial will be located at Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. The full board of the DRPA will meet in February for final approval of the funding.
Previous funding for the project, $8.4 million, has been acquired from the city of Philadelphia and federal sources. If the DRPA funding is approved as expected, a total of $11.9 million will be slated for use for completion of the President's House memorial.
A little over nine months prior to this most recent funding request, a block or two from the intended location of the memorial, then presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of 25,000 gathered on a spring evening in Philadelphia in April 2008.
From 1790 to 1800, the city of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, served as the nation's first capital, home to the nation's first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams.
What has been a little known fact is that upon its founding and at the time the nation's first president assumed his office, the President's House, which would come to be known as the White House when the nation's capital relocated to Washington, D.C., was staffed by enslaved persons. The enslaved were housed in the stables with the horses.
The intended location of the President's House memorial is several blocks from what is now known as Washington Square. During America's colonial period, Washington Square was known as Congo Square, where people of African descent were sold into slavery and held to be transported to destinations determined by those who assumed ownership of them.
An alteration of the plans for the President's House memorial came after a discovery that occurred during excavation in 2007, with that discovery being said to have created a quandary related to how to proceed with construction at the site.
In 2007, remains of passageways were unearthed, that led to and from George Washington's presidential home. These passageways allowed the enslaved persons who labored for George Washington to move to and from the President's House and were constructed to conceal, from any visiting colonial guests' view, the comings and goings of the enslaved as they set about their tasks at the President's House.
During the summer in the United States, the time when the U.S. tourist trade swings into high gear, thousands arrive from across the nation and around the world to visit the city labeled 'the birth place of the nation.'
Since its creation and declared independence, on July 4, 1776, the United States of America existed as a contradiction. The oft quoted line from the Declaration of Independence, “.... all men are created equal....” did not apply to the nearly one quarter of a million enslaved persons of African descent that lived at that time, in 1776, in the thirteen colonies.
The original plans for the memorial site were meant to display an abstract of life in the sometimes referred to Philadelphia White House. Until the discovery of the passageways, the plan had been to fill in the ruins. The quandary now centered around the question should the incorporation of the discovery of the passageways and details of their use become part of the exhibit.
For over 400 hundred years, people of African descent contributed their forced labor, ingenuity, lives and blood to this nation as they built this nation and created wealth for this nation and the world.
An intended glimpse into the functioning of the household of the man known to the world as the 'father of his country', a household which included the use of enslaved workers, seems appropriate.
A strange dichotomy existed in the U.S. for almost another 90 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the United States of America continued to 'hold slaves', with slavery's official dissolution not occurring until 1865.
Visitors to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, from within the U.S. and from countries abroad, as they visit the sites designated to represent the lofty aspirations that have been attributed to those known as the founding fathers, often remark they were unaware that George Washington owned slaves. At the time of his death in 1799, he presumed to own over 300 enslaved persons of African descent.
Now that this glaring, contradictory evidence has been revealed and will be included as part of the memorial, these and any future discoveries must be used as opportunities to educate and assure that the sacrifices of untold millions, who toiled for centuries, are not reduced to a miniscule and in some cases, unwanted, historical footnote.
So, the next time anyone visits Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross' house or any of the other sights in Philadelphia, meant to evoke a sense of pride and accomplishment, remember that all that was accomplished was accomplished from a pedestal that rested on the backs of the enslaved of African descent, with most of the enslaved toiling in anonymity.
Also bear in mind that when the original thirteen colonies, later declaring themselves the United States of America, decided to throw off the tyrannical rule of King George III of England, they also decided to keep the descendants of Africa enslaved and continued to import African people from Africa until 1808, an allowance written into the Constitution of the United States.
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States