Some black leaders and scholars are accusing the National Park Service of dragging its feet on a congressional order to commemorate slaves kept by George Washington at the first presidential mansion.
Congress directed the park service two years ago to build a monument at the site, which is just steps from the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, but it remains vacant and unacknowledged.
The commemoration would be the first federal memorial to slavery in the nation.
“We have to tell the truth, whether it hurts or not,” said Charles Blockson, a curator of African American artifacts at Temple University. “In the city of Philadelphia, it’s never been told.”
Park Superintendent Mary Bomar said the delays have been caused in part by disagreement among historians over the exact location where Washington’s slaves once lived, as well as a lack of funding.
“We’re not sweeping anything under the rug,” she said. “Nothing would suit me better than to move forward on this project.”
Some park officials had resisted the argument that slaves and white servants used to live on the spot in front of the Liberty Bell Center, which is now a wide sidewalk along Market Street. Bomar said her staff finally agreed on the location of the slave quarters following a forum last month.
Bomar said last week that she would push agency officials in Philadelphia and Washington to come up with the funds for the $4.5 million project. The city has pledged $1.5 million.