A proposed statue for the National Liberty Memorial, honoring the African American soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, sculpted by artist David Newton of Dallas. (Michael Curtis)
Maurice Barboza’s idea to build a memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers on the Mall was sparked by the end of another struggle: the campaign by Barboza’s aunt to be the second black member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in modern times. She won.
That was 1984. Over the next 30 years, Barboza, inspired by his aunt’s tenacity, patiently shepherded the idea of a “black Patriots memorial” through the stages of historical research, development of a monument and then congressional legislation. The longtime Alexandria resident even sold his house to raise money and focus on the project.
And now, he may have won.
Last month, Congress unanimously authorized a site for the memorial: the northeast corner of 14th Street and Independence Avenue, a main gateway to the city, in what is currently a surface parking lot next to the Department of Agriculture. And on Sept. 26, President Obama signed the authorization into law. The National Liberty Memorial was formally approved for placement on the Mall.
“It’s been a long struggle,” Barboza said. “Each step of the way was met with resistance. I’m just so gratified that so many people have bought into this, and it’s given me a great deal of peace to move forward and create a great memorial.”
Barboza’s mission is to raise awareness about the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War. At least 5,000 black soldiers, and possibly as many as 10,000, fought for independence from the British. Some were free and many were slaves, Barboza said, some enticed with false promises of their own freedom.