Statement from National Trust President Paul Edmondson and White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin In Response to Protests at Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square

June 4, 2020

Original posting date: May 31, 2020. Updated June 4, 2020.

During the protests on Lafayette Square on May 30, a number of buildings near the White House were damaged by individuals in the crowd, and many buildings, structures, and statues were tagged with graffiti. One of the buildings covered with graffiti, originally constructed in the early 19th century as a slave quarters, included the statement “Why do we have to keep telling you black lives matter?” This important building is a part of Decatur House, a historic site owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and operated by the White House Historical Association as the David M. Rubenstein Center for White House History.

The National Trust’s president, Paul Edmondson, and the White House Historical Association’s president, Stewart McLaurin, issued the following joint statement:

“The juxtaposition of history, place, and current events is poignant and powerful, and a new and meaningful chapter of the history of Decatur House was written last night.

“The preservation and interpretation of buildings like this play a critical role in acknowledging and healing the divisions in our nation. This place, where people were held in bondage within view of the White House, has particular meaning in this time.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Historical Association honor this by telling the full story of our history, by elevating and preserving the enormous and important contributions African Americans have made to our nation, and by carrying that powerful legacy forward.

“Our mutual commitment is reflected in the work of both organizations, including the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, created by the National Trust in response to the tragic events in Charlottesville in August of 2017, and the Slavery in the President’s Neighborhood project of the White House Historical Association.”

Graffiti at Decatur House Slave Quarters, Washington, DC, 5/31/2020

photo by: White House Historical Association

Graffiti on the outside of the slave quarters of the Trust’s historic site, Decatur House, shows a powerful juxtaposition of history, place, and current events.

Update June 4, 2020:

Because removal of graffiti tends to discourage more graffiti, teams from the D.C. government and federal agencies have been actively working to remove the extensive graffiti that has appeared around Lafayette Square during the recent demonstrations. On June 4, one of those teams removed the graffiti from the former slave quarters at Decatur House, as they are doing throughout the area. Before its removal, the graffiti was well documented by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Historical Association, in addition to being widely photographed by many members of the general public and the media. The National Trust and the White House Historical Association are deeply committed to the ongoing preservation, memorialization, and interpretation of the full history of this profoundly significant building, which represents a rare example of an urban slave dwelling where African Americans were held in bondage within sight of the White House. As part of that public interpretation, we plan to incorporate this new episode in the building’s history, including the graffiti from the recent demonstrations.

Join the movement to save and sustain historic African American places. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will help every American see themselves, their history, and their potential in our collective story and national cultural landscape.

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