The National Park Service (NPS) has retracted a proposal to take down a statue of William Penn at a Philadelphia historical site as part of a renovation.
The NPS had announced its plan on Jan. 7 and quickly withdrew the plan on Jan. 8 after the announcement raised a torrent of criticism from the public as well as politicians from both sides.
In a brief statement, Independence National Historical Park said it has withdrawn the proposal it had announced quietly before the weekend about a wider renovation of Welcome Park, located just blocks from the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center.
The proposal, it said, was released “prematurely” and hadn’t undergone a complete internal review.
“No changes to the William Penn statue are planned,” it said. The park service never explained the reason for the impetus to remove the statue.
Welcome Park is a section of a city block bordered by apartments and a bed and breakfast. It is named for the ship that brought Penn to Philadelphia from England in 1682 and is built on the site of Penn’s home, the Slate Roof House, which was demolished in the 1800s.
The NPS plan had described the changes to the park to include an “expanded interpretation of the Native American history of Philadelphia developed in consultation with representatives of several of the indigenous nations.” Certain aspects of the original design of the park from 1982 were to be retained, but a “ceremonial gathering space with circular benches” and newly planted buffers on three sides would be added. The Penn statue and Slate Roof House model would be removed, Intercessors For America (IFA) explained on its website.
The IFA said it alerted thousands of intercessors and intercessory networks across the nation when the decision to change the park was announced.
Pennsylvania’s top Republican state House member, Rep. Bryan Cutler, had accused President Joe Biden in a statement of trying to “cancel” William Penn. Cutler called it “another sad example of the left in this country scraping the bottom of the barrel of wokeism to advance an extreme ideology and a nonsensical view of history.”
Dr. Abby Abildness, executive director of Healing Tree International and executive producer of the documentary Penn’s Seed: The Awakening, told the IFA, “Removing Penn’s statue is an attempt to erase Pennsylvania’s history of peaceful coexistence between Penn, his colonists, and the Native Lenape tribes, who were the first people of the land.”
“Penn honored and befriended the Lenape people, which is evident in the peace treaty he wrote in order to preserve good faith and goodwill with them. When the King said Penn needed an army to protect him from the native Americans, he rejected that idea and instead said, ‘Let’s see what love will do.’ Penn pioneered a new model of government built upon diplomacy and democracy rather than the tyrannical rulership he had experienced in Europe,” Abildness said.
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro took credit for the park service’s reversal, saying in a statement that “my team has been in contact with the Biden Administration throughout the day to correct this decision.”
The NPS said it consulted with representatives of the Haudenosaunee, the Delaware Nation, the Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Shawnee Tribe, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, whose ancestors were displaced by the Pennsylvania colony. Such consultation with the federally recognized tribes is required under the National Historic Preservation Act.
But uprooting the statue of Pennsylvania’s founder from Welcome Park also wasn’t a major point of discussion as park service officials and tribal representatives met to plan the renovation over video last year, said Jeremy Johnson, director of cultural education for the Delaware Tribe of Indians.
Also, leaders of the Shawnee Tribe and the Eastern Shawnees, both now based in Oklahoma, like the Delawares, said they hadn’t had any discussions about it. Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, said his tribe hadn’t received a customary “dear chief” letter from the agency — and he objects to removing the statue.
“William Penn was an ally of the Shawnee,” Barnes said. “As long as he lived, he kept his promise. As long as he was able to speak on behalf of the colony in western Pennsylvania, the Shawnees had a home there. … Of all the terrible human beings that inflicted tragedy upon native peoples, I don’t put William Penn in that category.”
Historians say Penn’s willingness to negotiate with Indians for lands distinguished him from previous colonizers in the Chesapeake and New England where early colonial regimes were more willing to use armed force in bloody confrontations to expand their settlements.
The park service now says the statue will stay put, and it remains committed to rehabilitating the site after a ”robust public process to consider options.”
Writing about the intercessors’ win in Pennsylvania after the NPS proposal to remove Penn’s statue was pulled, IFA Contributing Writer Lori Meed wrote, “Although the statue of William Penn is carefully inscribed with his name, and a timeline of his life is carved in the flagstones, the principle is the same. And though his statue cannot have a perfect equivalence to the stones that Israel was told to stack up in the Jordan River as a remembrance for succeeding generations, again, the principle remains the same. We erect statues, carve flagstones, and preserve historic buildings to commemorate our history and what God has done among us. Any culture or people that loses its history and testimony of how God has historically moved will itself be lost.”
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