By Linn Washington Jr.
Revered residence or house of horrors?
Intense controversy surrounds the President's House project now under construction on America's historic Independence Mall in downtown Philadelphia, Pa.
The multi-million dollar project located outside the iconic Liberty Bell, only a few steps from Independence Hall where America's Founding Fathers declared freedom, commemorates the nation's first Executive Mansion where two U.S. presidents lived, including George Washington.
The most inflamed controversy centers around who else lived in that rented residence with Washington and his wife Martha.
Washington, the general whose armies secured America's independence during the Revolutionary War, kept slaves inside that house, many of whom slept in an area now literally on the doorstep of the Liberty Bell Pavilion.
The President's House project, featuring a rendering of that Executive Mansion residence, will also include a memorial to those slaves held by Washington. This is a first for the United States, a nation built on slavery but a nation that still, over two hundred years after its July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, turns a blind-eye to that blot on its legacy of liberty .
That memorial to nine slaves held in enforced servitude by Washington inside his Philadelphia "White House"--several of whom quickly grabbed the opportunity of moving to Philly to flee to freedom--evokes intense debate among blacks and whites.
Some blacks blast any recognition of slaveholder Washington while some whites pillory the prospect of slavery staining this project's long-delayed recognition of the birth of America's executive branch.
"Why are we honoring that house of bondage? Do Jews rebuild concentration camps?" complains Charles Blockson, an internationally revered historian specializing in the history of blacks during the early decades of the United States.
"We need a memorial to all enslaved Africans, not just the nine. Why isn't the story of resistance told? A black woman burned down her master's house two blocks from this site. Why is her story not told?" said Blockson, curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, the nation's second largest collection of artifacts dealing with blacks.
Rob Morris, a descendant of Robert Morris the wealthy businessman/slave-trader who owned the residence Washington occupied, condemns the co-recognition of the President's House and slavery as a case of "political correctness" run amok...
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