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Mall monument to black patriots gets another shot
Most accounts of the Revolutionary War give the impression that America’s independence from Britain was won by brave white men, but Maurice A. Barboza wants to tell the rest of the story.
Mr. Barboza is trying to revive an effort that stalled three years ago due to fundraising and management problems to build the first monument on the Mall honoring black Colonial soldiers.
“They were Americans, and they should be honored,” Mr. Barboza said. “They were founders of the country.”
Congress first approved the idea for a memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers at a site between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument more than 20 years ago, but the effort has since become stuck in Washington’s bureaucratic maze.
The National Park Service wants to enforce a moratorium on any new monuments and museums on the Mall, which Congress established in 2003 to prevent overcrowding, and says that authorization to use the original site for the memorial expired in 2005.
“The clock ran out,” said Lyle Laverty, an assistant secretary of the Interior who oversees the Park Service. “It’s up to the Congress to reauthorize” the site.
Mr. Barboza and his aunt, Lena Santos Ferguson, first thought of building a memorial in the 1980s when Ms. Ferguson, who is black, had trouble joining the Daughters of the American Revolution despite tracing her ancestry to a white Revolutionary War soldier.
After a four-year fight that made national headlines, Ms. Ferguson was admitted to the Daughters in 1984 with an agreement to research the estimated 5,000 black veterans of the American Revolution.
President Reagan authorized the memorial in 1986, and the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Foundation, led by Mr. Barboza, acquired the site in 1988. A preliminary design was unveiled in 1991, but organizers struggled to raise the $6 million needed to build the project.
Mr. Barboza relinquished control of the foundation and was ousted from its board in 1992.
Since then, money raised to build the memorial seems to have disappeared, including more than $1 million in funds raised from a commemorative coin sold by the U.S. Mint in 1998 that depicted black patriot Crispus Attucks.
The group disbanded in 2005 when its fourth extension from Congress expired.
Robert J. Brown, a former co-chairman of the foundation, said in an e-mail that the organization had “quite a bit of money” when he resigned between 2002 and 2003, but he doesn’t know what happened to the funds.
Now Mr. Barboza is trying to persuade the National Park Service and Congress to give the memorial another chance, and hopes to use a loophole in the law governing construction on the Mall.
One clause in the moratorium gives an exemption to any project that had been approved before the act was passed, which applies to the black patriots memorial and a monument honoring Martin Luther King Jr., which is nearing construction.
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