It's summertime here in the U.S., the time when the U.S. tourist trade swings into high gear, prompting thousands to visit the city labeled 'the birth place of the nation.'
Since its creation and declared independence, on July 4, 1776, the United States of America has existed as a contradiction. The oft quoted line from the Declaration of Independence, “.... all men are created equal....” did not apply to the nearly one quarter of a million enslaved persons of African descent that lived at that time in the thirteen colonies.
In 2007, the remains of passageways were unearthed that led to and from George Washington's presidential home, established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1790. These passageways allowed the enslaved persons who labored for George Washington to move between the White House and were constructed to conceal, from any guests' view, the comings and goings of the enslaved as they set about their tasks.
It is said that the National Park Service and Philadelphia city officials now face a quandary. The original plans for the site were meant to display an abstract of life in the Philadelphia White House. Until the discovery of the passageway, the plan had been to fill in the ruins. The question now is if the incorporation of this recent discovery should become part of the exhibit.
What's the quandary? For over 400 hundred years, people of African descent contributed their forced labor, ingenuity, lives and blood to this nation as they built this nation and created wealth for this nation and the world. A glimpse into the functioning of the household of the man known to the world as the 'father of his country' seems appropriate.
A strange dichotomy existed in the U.S. for almost another 90 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the United States of America continued to 'hold slaves', with slavery's official dissolution not occurring until 1865.
History has revealed that to assure the enslaved of African descent that accompanied Washington to Philadelphia when he resided at the Philadelphia White House would not achieve the status of freed persons, he routinely left Philadelphia, every six months, taking along the enslaved, returning to the residence in Monticello in Virginia, so the enslaved would not meet the residency requirement that would have freed them in Pennsylvania.
Visitors to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, from within the U.S. and from abroad, as they visit the sites designated to represent the lofty aspirations that have been attributed to those known as the founding fathers, often remark they were unaware that Washington owned slaves. It is a fact that at the time of his death in 1799, he presumed to own over 300 enslaved persons of African descent.
Why is it that an evil that maintained the enslavement of millions of persons of African descent for more than 400 years is still unknown to so many? The answer lies in the fact that for hundreds of years, the history of the United States has been shaped by those who were the enslavers of African people and descendants of the enslavers of African people.
Now that this glaring contradictory evidence has been revealed, those of us of African descent must remain forever vigilant and use these events as opportunities to educate ourselves of the plot that has existed for over 400 years, a plot that has attempted to reduce our ancestor's sacrifices to a miniscule historical footnote and in most cases, an unwanted footnote.
So, the next time anyone visits Betsy Ross' house or any of the other sites meant to evoke a sense of pride and accomplishment, remember that all that was accomplished was accomplished from a pedestal that rested on the backs of the enslaved of African descent, with most of the enslaved toiling in anonymity.
Many say that the evil institution of chattel slavery did not and does not speak to the ideals of the nation. I disagree. It speaks volumes to those ideals. No matter how some historians may attempt to rationalize away the ugly reality, slavery existed, from the 1400s until 1865 in these lands and when the original thirteen colonies decided to throw off the tyrannical rule of King George, they also decided to keep the descendants of Africa enslaved.