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Revolutionaries of a different color

A drive for a memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers restarts.

August 23, 2008|Brett Zongker | Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Most accounts of the Revolutionary War give the impression that America's independence was won by brave white men.

Maurice Barboza wants to tell the rest of the story. He's trying to revive an effort to build the first monument on the National Mall honoring black Colonial soldiers.

The project would recognize such people as Crispus Attucks, the first patriot killed in the Boston Massacre, and James Lafayette, a Virginia slave who risked his life to spy on the British and was granted freedom in return.

"They were Americans, and they should be honored," Barboza says. "They were founders of the country."

Congress first approved the idea for a memorial honoring enslaved and free black Revolutionary War soldiers and a prominent site for the project more than 20 years ago. But after years of planning, the idea languished due to fundraising and management problems.

Now it's stuck in Washington's bureaucratic maze. The National Park Service wants to enforce a 2003 Congressional moratorium on any new monuments and museums on the Mall. The park service also notes that the original site for the memorial expired in 2005.

"The clock ran out," says Lyle Laverty, an assistant secretary of the Interior who oversees the park service. "It's up to the Congress to reauthorize."

President Reagan authorized the memorial in 1986, and a group led by Barboza acquired a site between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument in 1988. A preliminary design was unveiled in 1991. But organizers struggled to raise the $6 million needed.

Now Barboza is trying to persuade the park service and Congress to give the memorial another chance.

"Nobody is fussing about whether this is a good monument . . . ," said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Democratic majority on the Senate Energy and Resources Committee. "But as you can well imagine, there's no shortage of organizations that would like to have a presence on the National Mall."

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