A long-delayed proposal to establish a national memorial in Washington to honor the 5,000 free blacks and slaves who fought as soldiers and sailors during the Revolutionary War got a congressional boost Tuesday when it was passed as part of a massive Senate defense spending bill.
The legislation authorizes the nonprofit National Mall Liberty Fund DC to establish a memorial on federal land in the District to honor the black soldiers, sailors and civilians who provided assistance during the Revolution. It was attached as an amendment Monday to the defense bill, which authorizes $631 billion in Pentagon spending for the next year.
“This is a critical step,” said Maurice Barboza, who has been trying for 30 years to get a memorial built for the blacks who fought in the Revolution. “Without this amendment, the project would be dead. We are now in the ballgame.”
The legislation permits the establishment of the memorial on federal land outside the Mall. The bill stipulates that federal funds will not be used to build the memorial.
Mr. Barboza said passage of the amendment in the Senate ensured it had a good chance to become law in the next couple weeks. The Senate must reconcile its defense authorization bill with the House, which passed its version in May. The lawmakers have just a few weeks to produce and approve a final bill. The memorial language is not in the House version.
“The Senate has taken a key step toward honoring the more than 5,000 African Americans who fought for the United States during the Revolutionary War,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut independent, who sponsored the memorial measure. “These Americans, both slaves and free persons, served to secure the liberty of their fellow countrymen, and it is well past time to acknowledge their sacrifice. I will work to secure this provision’s inclusion in the final version of the bill.”
Mr. Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, will be in a position to watch out for the memorial legislation as the second-most-senior member of the majority on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, who sponsored the legislation with Mr. Lieberman, said the initiative “comes from the grass roots and pays appropriate tribute to grass-roots patriots of 236 years ago who deserve recognition and gratitude for their part in securing America’s independence.”
Mr. Barboza, whose ancestors fought in the Revolution, said his proposed legislation died in three previous sessions of Congress. He said that once the bill becomes law he can start meeting with the National Park Service to find a site and get the project moving.
An earlier group, the Black Patriots Foundation, lost the right to build a memorial on the Mall in 2005 after years of failing to come up with the funds needed to start construction.
Mr. Barboza founded the group but was forced out of the foundation in the early 1990s in a power struggle. He said in testimony before a Senate committee in 2007 that the “failures had nothing to do with the history or the concept; it had to do with bad management that was in plain view.”
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