THE UNVEILING yesterday of the excavation of the Robert Morris mansion, which served as America's first White House, adds to an inventory of important historical Philadelphia sites that tell the American story in tangible ways.

But to tell that story with no mention of the unfinished business of the American Revolution would be to ignore the incredible strides we have made since the revolution.

We applaud the U.S. Park Service's decision to include the story of George Washington's slaves in that narrative - and the Avenging the Ancestors Coaliton for prodding them.

The fact that Washington kept slaves does less damage to his legacy than ignoring it would do to our history.

Washington, like many of the patriots who envisioned the unfettered freedoms we now enjoy, was a man of his time. His embrace of the horrors and contradictions of slavery is an important part of the history of that era.

That the man who is aptly called the father of his country was also a slaveholder - even as president - must be acknowledged by anyone who hopes to understand who we are as a people and how we continue to evolve.

Like all redemption tales, this story starts in a dark place. That's why we need the kind of light shed by projects like the President's House. *