The presidential mansion where George Washington and his slaves once lived were leveled long ago, but a new monument will keep their complicated, and sometimes painful, legacy alive for generations.
The National Park Service and city officials announced Tuesday the selection of a design by a black-owned firm to mark the site of the mansion near Independence Hall.
A brick facade resembling the home’s first floor will trace the building’s outline and encompass video and audio exhibits telling what daily life was like for the president and his slaves.
The selection comes five years after groups started protesting plans to commemorate the Robert Morris House and build a new pavilion for the Liberty Bell, saying officials were ignoring the history of slaves.
“We are, as they say in politics, cautiously optimistic,” said Michael Coard, a black lawyer who has fought since 2002 for the exhibit to include the story of Washington’s slaves. “(But) we won’t take our eyes off anybody.”
Washington and John Adams each lived at the mansion, a block from Independence Mall, when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital between 1790 and 1800. At least nine of Washington’s slaves also were quartered there.
Controversy over the slavery issue grew when city and federal officials began planning a new home for the Liberty Bell. Some historians and black groups were outraged when it was revealed that the entrance to the new pavilion was near where the slaves once lived.
In 2002, Congress directed the National Park Service to “appropriately commemorate” the slaves. But the project was slowed by disagreement over exactly where the slaves lived, along with a lack of funding. Mayor John F. Street has committed $1.5 million in city funds. The project also has the support of a $3.6 million federal grant.
A committee of historians, community activists and representatives of political leaders sought public input before selecting the final design, by Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners of Philadelphia.