Scholars object to text on Washington's slave quarters

Sunday, November 3, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- Scholars are objecting to a National Park Service text that does not mention that the house in Philadelphia used by President George Washington had a slaves' quarters attached to it.

Instead, the Independence National Historical Park's Web site refers to a "large servants' hall" that Washington had attached to the back of the house.

"No more lying, just tell the truth," said Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University.

Some historians and blacks began protesting last spring when it was revealed that the park service's new pavilion for the Liberty Bell, scheduled to open in 2003, would be located near where Washington's slaves lived.

The park service promised to include exhibits on slavery at the new Liberty Bell Center. A U.S. House committee also required the park service to commemorate the nation's first presidential mansion, including an acknowledgment that slaves lived and worked there.

The house, torn down in the 1830s, was home to Washington and John Adams before the nation's capital moved from Philadelphia.

Park service spokesman Phil Sheridan said the Web site does not refer to a slaves' quarters because nobody knows whether the slaves had separate quarters, or shared space with white indentured servants and free white servants.

"Can we say it was for the exclusive housing and feeding of slaves? We have no historical evidence to say that it was," Sheridan said.

Historian Randall Miller, who wanted to halt construction of the Liberty Bell pavilion so an extensive archaeological evaluation could be done, said the flap over the Web site portends a major battle over how the president's house will be represented.

"A lot of groups are interested in 'owning' that space, and the first thing they want to do is get control of the language," he said.

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