Vast shameful coverup unearthed!

Funny thing that I just mentioned George Washington's famous slave Hercules in a recent post, because his fame just grows and grows.

Unfortunately (because of past historical coverups) many Americans still fail to understand the pivotal role played by Hercules in the American founding.

But the good news is that a taxpayer-financed reeducation campaign is underway. Hercules and the reeducation effort are featured prominently in a story on the front page of today's Inquirer's local news section. In a shocking exposé titled "Slavery laid bare: A historic platform for dialogue on race," it is reported that not only did Hercules and other slaves work in the first President's House, but that there was actually an underground passage between the slave area and the main house:

What really energized archaeologists and the public was the discovery a few days later of the foundation and basement of the house's kitchen building, about 20 feet south of the main house. There had been no documentary evidence that the kitchen even had a basement, archaeologists said.

During Washington's presidency, his enslaved African chef, Hercules, well-known for his culinary artistry, presided over that kitchen, which other slaves and indentured servants staffed.

A day or two after that find, another stone foundation was discovered - remnants of an underground passageway from the kitchen basement to the main house's basement. The passage allowed slaves and servants to move back and forth unseen.

The passageway had also been unknown.

Hmmm... I immediately wondered whether there might be similar passages at the White House itself -- where the today's servants of another powerful man whose first name is "George" are also able to "move back and forth unseen." Will future historians ever be able to know?

The first President's House was torn down in 1832 (ostensibly to erect commercial buildings) but that's now being seen as a coverup of historic proportions. Now that archaeologists have unearthed the truth, there is no longer any way to conceal the slavery -- the contrast between the powerful and the powerless!

The excavation now starkly shows the world of Washington and his grand window and, six feet away, the world of Hercules and the other slaves.

"Here," said one man on the platform, pointing to the window, "the powerful."

Sweeping his finger over to point at the kitchen, "Here, the powerless."

African Americans visiting the site often are deeply affected.

George Peebles of Philadelphia was almost speechless as he looked over the maze of walls the other day.

"Wow," he said, shaking his head. "Wow. They buried the ugliness of slavery, and it's just being uncovered centuries later.

"It shows how our history as Africans was covered up. For sure. Literally buried. Now it's a historical thing. But back then, just the ugliness of it - that's what gets me."

It is, he said, "the real deal."

Warrington, who is African American and a member of the project's committee of historians, officials and community members, said the site made it possible to talk about identity in a personal way.

"So many of us grew up without a clue of who we were," she said. "It's not even something you can explain."

"Identity"? Who "we" "were"? Yeah, I'd have to agree that such logic is something that can't be explained. If the word "we" has come to mean that black Philadelphians in 2007 share an "identity" with 18th century slaves brought from Virginia to Philadelphia during the first presidency, then by the same logic, why can't white Philadelphians claim the identity of George Washington?

Actually, my grandfather lived in a sod house in the Dakotas, so I probably can't claim a "we" relationship with Washington, but the problem is, I'm having a hell of a difficult time feeling a "we" identity with my grandfather even though I met him as a child. It's just too distant in time and place. I have to use too much of my imagination thinking about daily life without electricity or plumbing or doctors. Plus, he was born in a Norwegian family, and I don't speak the language and really can't identify all that much with the culture. So if I can't even share a bona fide identity with my own grandfather, how on earth can anyone claim it with people who lived hundreds of years ago without a shred of evidence they're even related?

I think I have a pretty vivid imagination, but this just strikes me as pure fantasy. (All at taxpayers' expense, of course.....)

But some people have a more vivid imagination than I do. And in what seems like an outtake from the movie "Carrie," they're seeing their identity kinship as reaching up out of the soil.

Looking at the site, she said, evoked "those people reaching up out of the soil, telling their story. It's a monument of what happened."

Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, a historical archaeologist, has spent many hours on the platform explaining to visitors what they are looking at.

"I love this view without the walls because it strips away a lot," she said the other day, surrounded by people on the platform. "I think about walls a lot. This walling away is so symbolic for this site. Now you see this small space between here [at the bow window] and there [at the kitchen] is the space between the great statesman working out his understandings of democracy and the people that he enslaved."

"Yes," said a woman, "and the people who were slaves were not too far away. But they had to come up to serve him."

What a monster this awful George Washington must have been. To sit there imagining that he was working out understandings of democracy while his slaves had to come up from underground to serve him.

Shame on him, and shame on America!

Not so fast, there. For, we the readers are quickly reassured (by archaeologist Cheryl LaRoche) that white guilt and black shame have been impediments to discussions of race, but that the unearthed foundations of the President's House provide a way around them:

People, black and white, craned their necks to get a better look.

LaRoche said discussions of race between blacks and whites were often impeded by a "guilt component" in whites and a "shame component" in blacks. But the viewing platform at the President's House has provided a way around such emotional blockage.

This dig "is creating a space - I don't want to say of comfort, that's not the right word - it's creating a space of possibility for discussion," LaRoche said. "It's an opportunity to touch a chord in the past, and it's an opportunity to touch a past that's been so maligned and hidden, buried and walled away. . . .

"What I am seeing is so vast, and the possibility of what I am seeing is so profound, I'm having trouble, in my mere mortal self, talking about it."

Profound? I learned that George Washington owned slaves when I was a small boy. I also visted Mount Vernon, where he kept slaves. Not only is it no secret, but the guides there talk about it quite frankly.

The house involved here belonged to Robert Morris, who lent it to the fledgling government of the United States, and both George Washington (who owned slaves) and John Adams (who did not) lived in it. I just can't see the fact that it was torn down in 1832 as a coverup or as part of a plot to "malign, hide, bury, or wall away" slavery.

I'm frankly skeptical that any of this will provide "a way around emotional blockage" -- whether impeded by a guilt component in whites or a shame component in blacks. As I've argued before, it's a question of perspective. What is so important about a kitchen cellar in the context of the American founding? Why are George Washington and his slave Hercules the central figures in an increasingly morbid President's House guiltfest which minimizes the owner Robert Morris and subsequent occupant John Adams?

You'd almost think the goal was to smear the founding of the country. I understand that there is a well organized group of people who want to do that, and I believe in their free speech rights. I just don't see why their efforts have to be taxpayer-supported.

posted by Eric on 05.20.07 at 09:35 AM










Comments

You'd almost think the goal was to smear the founding of the country.

Is it really a smear to point out that there's a bit of contradiction that the Founding Fathers, who fought and risked their lives for their liberty, counted slavemasters among their number?

Methinks someone is upset that their gradeschool textbook isn't the entirety of American history -- and very willing to cast the worst motives on anyone who points it out.

DU

The Mechanical Eye   ·  May 20, 2007 8:22 PM

Nice job. Once again, people judge the past by the standards of today -- when it suits their politics.

Bleepless   ·  May 20, 2007 10:46 PM

Liberals are bothered by the fact that some of the Founding Fathers owned slaves because if there's any group in America that's pro-freedom and anti-coercion, it's liberals!

Bilkwick   ·  May 22, 2007 11:42 AM

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