Setting The Record Straight
by, 07-04-2008 at 12:41 PM (1218 Views)
Setting The Record Straight
Junious Ricardo Stanton
On July 3 the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition held their annual Black Independence Day Memorial on the site of the soon to be constructed Liberty Bell Center at 6th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. This site ironically is where George Washington held in brutal captivity nine Africans who served him without pay while he served as the first president of the United States. Since 2002 ATAC has attempted to raise awareness of the vicious legacy of slavery and have that complex narrative included in the telling of America’s history. Telling the truth will enable all people to appreciate know how this country really developed and the important role Africans played in its’ growth and development. Each year since 2002 Attorney Michael Coard and ATAC have held protests, demonstrations and memorial services to agitate, remember, commemorate and honor the nine Africans, and the horrible system of slavery most Americans would love to dispatch to the memory hole. It is the mission of the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition to not allow America to indulge in willing amnesia when it comes to its’ history of racial oppression, exploitation and animus.
In 2002 when the US Park Service announced it was going to construct a New Liberty Bell Center local historians raised the issue about George Washington holding slaves at his Philadelphia residence. Black historian and bibliophile Charles Blockson along with a few white historians put out the call and local activists responded by aggressively challenging the US government to publicly acknowledge the existence of slavery and the quarters of the nine Africans George Washington kept while he was president. Major demonstrations shut down the demolition and excavation, and a coalition of historians, activists, residents demanded the government not only admit George Washington kept slaves but include an interactive exhibit at the Center to tell their stories. Activist communicators on the two black radio stations (WHAT and WURD) and in the community press kept the struggle front and center in the media. As a result, hundreds of protestors braved 100 degree heat to shut down the project while supporting efforts to tell the truth and open opportunities in the construction trades to Africans in America.
The government relented and agreed to talk. Subsequently a steering committee was formed, Blockson and Michael Coard one of Philadelphia’s top criminal attorney’s took the lead in negotiating with the Park Service. The group adopted the name Avenging The Ancestors Coalition and began the arduous task of negotiating with the US Park Service. The media attention and community support provided ATAC with a platform and they adroitly used it to solicit support from US Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, former Mayor John Street and several councilpersons and state legislators. The US Parks Service was very cooperative they agreed to numerous requests and demands and demonstrated a good faith willingness to work with ATAC to see that a monument of some sort acknowledging the wide spread existence and implications of slavery and the nine Africans who served Washington were included in the new project. A nation wide search was begun for Black architects and professionals to design the memorial.
Progress on the Center is moving swiftly and ATAC members are pleased with the process. This year the memorial/educational ceremony was specifically in honor of the nine Africans. In addition to Michael Coard giving an update on the progress of the memorial, local historians, government officials and the Park Service Superintendent shared the importance of what was being done, how it benefits all Americans. Biographies of the men and women held by Washington were shared. Reenactors told the stories of Austin, Christopher Sheels, Giles, Hercules, Joe, Moll, Oney (Ona) Judge, Paris and Richmond. Their visual and oral presentations put human faces on the names. Their experiences personalized the horrors of slavery and provided a means for the audience to empathize with their plight as captive servants.
Despite the success of ATAC and the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments to tell the real story at the Liberty Bell Center, the struggle to include African-America history in “mainstream” history is far from over. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown shared with the audience the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed legislation requiring anyone providing historical tours in Philadelphia to take a test on their knowledge of slavery and the role Africans have played in the development of America. She also informed the crowd a suit has been filed in court challenging the bill. The work of ATAC and similar activists is not over by a long shot.
For more information about the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition c all (215) 552-8751 or visit their Website at ATAC: Avenging the Ancestors Coalition
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