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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
8/25/2004 8:56:33 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include P. Diddy.

A day after it opened with pomp and pageantry, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center found itself at the center of a mini-controversy involving the first lady and rap / hip-hop star P. Diddy. According to media reports out of New York, rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs pulled out of Monday night's dedication ceremony in Cincinnati because first lady Laura Bush's handlers refused to let her appear on stage with him.

Mrs. Bush headlined the list of celebrities who took part in the ceremony for the $80 million museum, which marks the place where thousands of slaves took their first steps as free men and women a century and a half ago.

Diddy also had been scheduled to have a role in the program.

But the New York Post, quoting anonymous sources, said Mrs. Bush's representatives "made it very clear to Freedom Center that they would not have Laura Bush appearing in the same photo-op as rapper P. Diddy."

The article speculated that Mrs. Bush's refusal to appear on stage with the rapper might  have something to do with his "scandalous past" or the fact that last month he launched Citizen Change, an effort to "educate, motivate and empower" millions of unregistered young black and Latino voters, a bloc that historically has leaned heavily Democratic.

After Diddy was made aware of the first lady's objections, he pulled out of the ceremony, citing "an unexpected personal obligation," the Post said.

The White House said Tuesday it did not nix Combs' photo-op with Mrs. Bush.

"The White House does not determine who does or does not participate in a program, like the dedication of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center," said the first lady's spokesman, Gordon Johndroe. "Mrs. Bush was just happy to be a part of an historic occasion."

Another source who was involved in the planning of the ceremony said the problem was caused by the event planners, who wanted to change the program schedule at the last minute.

According to the source, Combs was scheduled to introduce a video at the ceremony. But event planners decided at the last minute to put Mrs. Bush and Combs on the stage at the same time.

"It had nothing to do with Mrs. Bush not wanting to be on the stage with P. Diddy," the source said. "It had everything to do with them trying to change the schedule right up until the last minute. -- You can't change the schedule at the last minute when you're dealing with somebody at the White House."

A White House aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged "some organizational challenges with the event planners" but declined to elaborate.

Freedom Center spokesman Ernest Britton said he was unaware of any problems involving the first lady or Combs. Combs notified the center on Monday that he would not be able to attend the ceremony, Britton said.

"We were expecting him," Britton said. "We were disappointed that he wasn't able to attend. And we understand he had personal reasons that he wasn't able to attend. We expect to see him at another time."

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