As they traverse the plaza and read labels and inscriptions, visitors will learn that the world of Philadelphia is not just black and white, slave and free. The period of time captured by this commemoration is a critical transition point for the country, and Philadelphia is the pivot point. As the locus of Constitutional arguments over freedom and slavery, a center for abolitionist activity and home to a politically- active free African community, Philadelphia and its residents embody the national debate. The figures of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen-former slaves, students of the Quaker abolitionist Benezet, and leaders of the free African community-represent the lure of freedom and self-governance. The figure of "Black Sam" Fraunces, a New York restaurateur and friend of George Washington from the Revolutionary War period recruited to serve as steward at the President's House, represents the mix of free, unfree and indentured that formed Washington's household and which existed in the nation. Joseph Bunel, an envoy from the Haitian revolutionary government during Adams ' administration and reportedly the first African to have been hosted by a President, suggests the abolitionist sentiments present in the nation (mostly the north) during this period and the significant gains towards independence made by one enslaved group.
The figure of George Washington at his desk wrestling with the crisis caused by the escape of Martha's enslaved attendant, Oney Judge, crystallizes the dilemma of the country. On the one hand, Washington expresses dismay at the institution of slavery and great affection for Oney. On the other hand, his correspondence on the affair reveals that he still considers Oney property and is fundamentally unwilling to acquiesce to her bid for freedom. Of course, he adds, if an anti-slavery riot would result from her forcible return, he is willing to drop the whole affair.
As visitors enter the realm of the slaves, the consequences of slavery become personal and individual. Oney is shown packing her bags to escape, just as the family is preparing to return to Virginia to prevent the slaves from achieving permanent residency in Philadelphia and coming under the considerations of Pennsylvania 's 1780 Gradual Abolition Act. Hercules is a celebrated chef-perhaps the best in the country-and yet he is still enslaved. Even Tobias Lear, Washington 's personal secretary must admit that Washington 's slaves are treated well, "but still they are slaves."
At the back of the plaza, a commemorative bas-relief sculpture gives each of the Washingtons ' slaves the identity and dignity taken away by their enslavement. At the back side of this sculpture, these nine slaves are seen to be part of a multi-generational struggle beginning with the capture and transport by sea of Africans to the New World and culminating in the contemporary protests of the slave's descendants, the activist groups that brought this commemoration into being. The message is simple: Do not hide the history of slavery. Do not forget the suffering and sacrifices and successes of these individuals. Towards this end, the commemoration includes the names of free and enslaved Africans inscribed into the bricks that form the front plaza of the Liberty Bell Visitor Center. To engage the next generation, especially African-American children, we propose to enlist schoolchildren and citizens groups in conducting genealogical research into the names. This outreach program provides an opportunity for the community to become involved in the history and in the project in a meaningful and lasting way.