Friday, November 04, 2011

Slaves in the President's House

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Today I went to visit "The President's House" in Center City, Philadelphia. The President's House is where George Washington and John Adams resided in the years of their respective presidencies (approximately 1790-1800). The actual house itself has long since been demolished but some archaeologists recently discovered some pieces of the house's foundation. And not just any parts, but the slave quarters where our first president kept his slaves, essentially in the basement.

Once discovered, the City of Brotherly Love had a hard time deciding how to display this historic artifact, paying homage to our first president, but also pointing out that he was a slave owner who really had no interest in freeing his human bondage. What's more, Washington deliberately rotated his slaves back and forth between his Virginia plantation and his Philadelphia home, to ensure they could not take advantage of the law that allowed any Black person in residence in Philadelphia for more than six months to be free.

So, the resulting exhibit in Philadelphia is open to the public and cleverly displayed, considering they had very little actual artifacts to work with, but there's something missing. We call this exhibit "The President's House," but the actual bricks and mortar that were discovered are pieces of "The Slave Quarters," and yet nowhere in the signage or display is there a sign that indicates that. Don't get me wrong, the slaves have not been forgotten in the exhibit, but can't we just lay it all out on the table? It seems we're still trying to whitewash history.


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