National Mall Target of Another Memorial Proposal

Dear Coalition Friends:

Once again the Mall is the target of yet another memorial proposal, as reported in Saturday’s (3/8/03) Washington Post, copied below.

In addition, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, authorized by Public Law 107-106, is in the process of reviewing sites in Washington, D.C. The four “Preferred Sites” include two on the Mall, one at the foot of the Capitol, north side, the other between 14th and 15th Street at Constitution Avenue, next to the American History Museum. The two off-Mall sites include the Liberty Loan Building, near the Holocaust Museum, and the 10th Street Overlook, on axis with the Smithsonian Castle and Museum of African Art and overlooking the waterfront. For more on this project, visit the website at: www.nmaahc.org

Pastor Sees Room on Mall for Slave Tribute

By David Cho

Something is missing from the Mall, says Herndon pastor Brett Fuller.

When he walks its length, Fuller sees monuments to great presidents, marble parks depicting history-changing events and walls of black granite bringing comfort to relatives of war casualties.

But there’s not a single stone raised to celebrate African American accomplishments, he says.

Fuller, who is also chaplain of the Washington Redskins, is attempting to change that by lobbying Congress to authorize a monument in honor of those enslaved in this country. The idea has caught on with a bipartisan contingent in the House, which introduced H.R. 196, the National Slave Memorial Act.

“Where can I go in the nation’s capital to find some kind of historical monument to give honor and dignity to the nation’s slaves?” asked Fuller, who leads a multiracial congregation at Grace Covenant Church in Herndon. “They were the economic backbone of our country for about 250 years. . . . Somebody needs to say ‘thank you’ and that ‘we recognize your contribution to our country.’ ”

Getting space in the nation’s preeminent outdoor gallery, however, is not an easy task. It has been tried by the leaders of dozens of causes. Nearly all failed and had to build their monuments on less famous real estate in Washington.

What’s more, last year the Interior Department declared the heart of the Mall, known as the Reserve, a “no-build zone” after a three-year study, said John Parsons, a regional National Park Service director. Officials were concerned it would end up chock-full of bronze and marble if too many memorials were built. Exceptions were made for projects authorized by Congress.

The Mall, Parsons said, “is a completed work of civic art and shouldn’t be messed with.”

In its current form, the Slavery Memorial Act would place the monument inside the Reserve close to the Lincoln Memorial, superseding Interior Department policy. Parsons said he expected that his agency would oppose the bill if it specified a site inside the “no-build zone.”

But Fuller and some of his congressional allies are optimistic that the memorial will still end up in the Reserve or just off its borders. They add that they appear to have growing support within the GOP.

The memorial’s backers say they got a boost from Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). During one of his many apologies in December after he made racially insensitive remarks at Strom Thurmond’s birthday, Lott said: “I’ve been working with a number of African American leaders to try to get a suitable memorial on the Mall.”

Fuller believes the controversy surrounding Lott, which led to his resignation as Senate Republican leader, gives the project momentum. “This is one of the first ways Republicans can show they are interested in African American issues,” he said. “Given what happened with Lott, the sensitivity level towards race and America’s conscience toward race has been heightened.”

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the author of the bill, said his priority is to get the memorial built, even if he has to compromise on where it would go. But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the bill co-sponsor, said he would fight to get it on the Mall.

“I’ve often said, since the Trent Lott incident and the president’s repudiation of what he said, that it is not about words,” Cummings said. “You would think that, with a Republican as a lead sponsor and the Senate and the House being in control of the Republicans, that the ball is in their court to make it happen.”

Aides for Lott said he is focusing on another race-related project: establishing an African American cultural museum in the District.

“He’s come to the conclusion that . . . the museum is a preferable honor right now, and it’s one that we are already moving forward with and he would like to keep on track. He’s certainly not saying no” to the slavery memorial, said Susan Irby, Lott’s spokeswoman.

Outside Congress, the bill is backed by several prominent athletes who know Fuller through his NFL work. They include Redskins greats Darrell Green and Art Monk as well as Mark Brunell, the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars. George Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to Gambia and brother of “Roots” author Alex Haley, is also lobbying for the project.

Green said he envisions blacks and whites and other races finding healing in the shadows of the memorial. “As much as this will be a physical place, it will speak the unspoken words of redemption and forgiveness and . . . unity and togetherness,” he said. “I pray that this wouldn’t just be another little thing . . . that those in authority would fight to get it on the Mall.”

Fuller said he expects the proposal to be contentious. But he points out that other controversial monuments, such as the memorial to Vietnam War veterans, endured similar debate. Just as that tribute provides solace to many, Fuller hopes a memorial to the nation’s slaves will lead to racial reconciliation.

“The memorial is about one thing: what America did to Africans that were taken from Africa and how they now need to be remembered and honored,” he said. “And hopefully, we can begin the process of going to the root problems of racial division in our history and heal them.”

 

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