ABOVE PHOTO: Despite the frigid temperatures, hundreds gathered on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall today for the opening of The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, a site that tells the story of the inhabitants of the first Executive Mansion: Presidents George Washington and John Adams and nine enslaved Africans held by Washington. Managed by the National Park Service, The President’s House gives voice to once-unheard individuals and is made even more powerful by its proximity to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, iconic symbols of freedom and democracy.
Photo by H. Rumph Jr. for GPTMC
God of our weary years. God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way. We thank you for both the celebration and the solemnity of this special occasion.
Thank you for the work of those who made this day possible: grass roots organizers and civic leaders; for scholars and government officials; for the citizens of this city who stood up to say that this monument must be more than another story about chopping down cherry trees.
We thank you for the conversations of freedom and liberty that George Washington and others had around the dinner table in this house. For it was the exposure to such conversations that led Oney Judge and Hercules to determine that they would not just sit idly by and let slavery happen to them anymore; instead, they shook off the shackles of slavery, slipped into the night air of Philadelphia, and took freedom for themselves. Yes, God, we thank you for this monument.
However, we recognize that even as we approach this grand opening, in this memorial, some will still not be satisfied. Some will see in it a work that did not go far enough, while others will see in it a work that has gone too far. Some will say it talks too much about slavery, while others will say it doesn’t talk about enough about bondage. Even now, the critics of the “museum world” say that this work leaves unresolved the tension of freedom and slavery living side by side in the walls of what has become known as Americas first White House.
And yet, maybe that is how it should be, an unresolved tension. For we are yet a nation that lives with the unresolved issue of race. We have learned to fly to the moon and beyond, yet we cannot seem to get along with one another.
If this monument will be anything. God, allow it to be a place where the conversation is continually stirred again and again, so that we may move beyond polite conversation with one another that does not heal anything, to a place where we can be real with one another about how we really feel.
Bless this house that it may be a new way to continue the important conversation and work around racial reconciliation that is more about justice, than just harmony; more about equity than another kum bay ya moment; more about fairness, than about knowing how to speak to one another in politically correct terms.
Now, bless it with your protection. Be a hedge around it. Protect from danger all who will pass through this place; protect Park Service workers who will guard it at night; protect children and seniors and others who pass through as tourists.
We thank you for this day and all that means. Amen.