In our first capital, the sins of the nation’s past are being brought to light.
When George Washington moved to Philadelphia in 1780, he brought 9 personal servants. The President’s house at the corner of 6th and Market had numerous outbuildings, including one referred to as “servants’ quarters.” Later, the grounds were home to John Adams, before the capital was relocated in 1800. The buildings have long since disappeared and the site now rests some 15 feet below the current Liberty Bell Center. In 2002, the good folks at the National Park Service announced plans to dig up the site, and a firestorm erupted. The reason: the “personal servants” were slaves. A group called the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition argued that, should the site be excavated, a memorial to Washington’s slaves should be included. After 5 years of bickering, they won their case. Digging began last week. Mayor John Street said, “we’re digging for the truth…we don’t know what we’re going to find.” The archaeologists will be busy for the next two months. Independence National Historic Park will have a memorial to the victims of slavery in 2008.
Meanwhile, two venerable American icons have recently returned to Philly. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has jubilantly reported that a pair of bald eagles has been spotted in an aerie overlooking the city’s South Side. Once nearly wiped out by DDT, bald eagles have made a miraculous recovery; there are now 7000 nesting pairs in the U.S., up from a low of less than 500 in the 1960’s. This is the first nesting pair seen in Philadelphia in over 200 years and symbolizes the resurgence of our national emblem. Good news, right? The U.S. Navy doesn’t think so. The eagles have nested in a part of Philadelphia’s Naval Yard which has been slated for redevelopment. Ironically, the birds once nearly exterminated by an herbicide are now threatened by plans for a massive new produce market. And if the Fish and Wildlife Service takes bald eagles off the endangered species list this summer, they will probably be evicted. More bickering to follow.
Just your average week of national controversy in the City of Brotherly Love.