A law authorizing a memorial to black Colonial patriots has expired, throwing into doubt the future of a monument that had been in the works for almost two decades.
The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial was to be an arcing granite wall across from a similarly long and curving bronze statue built into the crook of a pathway through Constitution Gardens. It was authorized in 1986, won final design approval a decade later and had a coveted spot as one of the last works authorized for the Mall.
"It would sound normal to say I'm worried. So, yes, I'll say I'm worried," said Rhonda Roberson, president of the Black Patriots Foundation, as she faced the deadline for her project at midnight Wednesday.
Roberson said she had spent most of the week on Capitol Hill trying find a sponsor for legislation that would grandfather the memorial into the space on the Mall without the need for continued extensions of the original law. She did not secure a sponsor by midnight Wednesday, when the authorization expired.
When the memorial was approved for the space in 1986, the foundation was given seven years to complete the work. But raising millions of dollars was difficult, and the project has been granted four extensions by Congress. Each year, foundation members scrambled to find a congressional sponsor who would help them extend the law by a couple more years. This time, Roberson said, she wanted to try a different approach -- seeking legislation to grandfather in the memorial and give the foundation whatever time it took to build the memorial.
The land set aside is part of an area deemed the "reserve" in a 2003 law that banned further construction on that stretch of the Mall except for two memorials: one for black Revolutionary War patriots and the other for Martin Luther King Jr. at the Tidal Basin.
Roberson said that because the law bans further construction, she reasoned that there should be no need for the continuing expiration dates, which were put in place to keep sites from being tied up indefinitely by underfunded projects.
"This would remove the burden of running around every couple years" looking for an extension, Roberson said. She said she had been on the Hill since January seeking a sponsor and was derailed when Hurricane Katrina put her issue on the congressional back burner.
Continued extensions show that the foundation is in peril, according to one of the founders of the project. Maurice Barboza, who in 1985 began chasing his dream of a memorial to his Revolutionary War ancestors and helped win passage of the law years ago, has also been on Capitol Hill, trying to reclaim the memorial under a new umbrella.
Barboza, who split with the foundation, formed his own group, the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C. He sought sponsorship of a bill to reauthorize the memorial effort, but under the auspices of his group, not of the Black Patriots Foundation. He hired his own architect and artist and created a new concept for the memorial.
"Twenty years ago, I spent four years getting this legislation passed, and now they let it expire," Barboza said Wednesday. "So here I am again, trying to get the same project back on track. But I know I can get this memorial made. Somebody has to."