James Washington was commissioned to sculpt six busts of African American heros in 1968. The sculptures were placed in the Rotunda of Achievement at the Freedom Plaza, the first African American owned outdoor mall. The sculptures at the Rotunda of Achievement were vandalized within a month of their installation in 1969. Mr. Washington later said, “That’s the way Philadelphia was in the 60s.” It was as if he expected it to happen.
Later in the 1980s, the sculptures were again vandalized and the management of the Freedom Plaza where the Rotunda was located, decided to take the sculptures off of public display. The Rotunda itself was later raised because it had become a hangout for drug dealers.
I became interested in the whereabouts of the busts when I heard about the story in 2007. I called a friend in Philly and checked public art websites and called several people in the City Government and found no information. An Art Historian, Susan Platt, who was going to the East Coast to do some research swung by the Plaza to look at the sight and ask a few questions. The spot where the Rotunda had sat was now a vacant lot and no one at the Plaza office even remembered the busts. Susan called the one person that the folks at the Plaza thought might know about the history. The woman that she contacted remembered the sculptures and said that they had been stored away and that was all she knew.
A year went by and Susan called the woman at the Plaza to ask if she had found out any more information. The woman was immediately excited when she heard Susans voice on the phone. She said that they had uncoved the sculptures, literally, when workers sarted on a renovation on the old Plaza building a week before. They removed a wall under a staircase and found the six sculptures underneigth.
Susan was able to visit Philadelphia again shortly after the phone conversation and photograph the busts. The faces of one of the sculptures had been painted white and the lips of two others. They are all in good shape otherwise and plans are being discussed to put them perminately on display in the offices of the newly renovated Freedom Plaza.