American Masters and the Museum of Former Slaveholders
Washington Post reporter Susan Svrluga investigated to determine the status of the plans for a slavery museum. If one visits the Virginia State History Museum in Richmond and walks through the exhibit, slavery is a dominant part of history. There are many artifacts and the story is moving and stirs compassion for the terrible circumstance.
If one wanted to establish a museum dedicated to slavery, where should it be located if not in the Virginia’s State Capital?
Should it not be located near populations of African Americans? Should it not be located near the source of slavery? Should it be located far away from the source, say in California or New York where people might need reminding?
To garner support for such a museum that I think should be located at the former capital of the confederacy, perhaps the planners should include onerous recognition for the slaveholders.
Who were they? Why did they do what they did? What happened to them and their ancestry? A story tracing the paths of slavery, owners and slaves would be most enlightening.
Perhaps the museum could have two entrances, one for slaves and the other for masters. Despicable thought, isn’t it?
“Two decades later, donors wondering what happened to plans for slavery museum
By Susan Svrluga,
Nearly 20 years ago, former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder announced that he wanted to create a museum that would tell the story of slavery in the United States. He had the vision, the clout, the charm to make it seem attainable, and he had already made history: the grandson of slaves, he was the nation’s first elected African American governor.
He assembled a high-profile board, hosted splashy galas with entertainer Bill Cosby promising at least $1 million in support, accepted a gift of some 38 acres of prime real estate smack along Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg and showed plans for a $100 million showstopper museum designed by an internationally renowned architect.
And then . . .
“Governor Wilder disappeared,” said Rev. Lawrence Davies, the former longtime mayor of Fredericksburg who was a member of the board. Davies stopped getting notices about board meetings, and when he tried to reach Wilder, he never heard back.
“No one could ever get through to him,’’ Davies said. “We didn’t know what to think.”
It wasn’t just board members and city officials who were left to wonder. There are donors, too, asking what happened.
“I trusted them,” said Therbia Parker Sr., a general contractor from Suffolk, Va., who gave the museum nearly 100 artifacts he had collected over 40 years, including rare and invaluable pieces such as leg shackles, a handwritten bill of sale for slaves, and a collar with a plantation name and slave number on it.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw a newspaper with ads for runaway slaves,” he said. “The reality of it: This really happened.” He wanted future generations to feel that history as he had. But he doesn’t know where the artifacts he donated are now. And he is furious that the museum, slated to open in 2004, was never built.
“Black people deserve better than this,” he said.
Wilder and his attorney did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails requesting comment. When asked in person about the museum by a reporter at the school named in his honor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Wilder pleasantly responded, “No, no, I’m not talking to anyone.”
The U.S. National Slavery Museum filed for bankruptcy this fall. Firms have filed claims totaling more than $7 million. The city of Fredericksburg has threatened to sell the land because of more than $200,000 in unpaid real-estate taxes. Officials have asked the court to either liquidate the organization or to appoint a trustee to oversee its finances.
In 1993, Wilder announced he wanted to create a museum that would teach future generations about slavery. There was debate over where to put it. But a gift of about 38 acres in Fredericksburg from the Silver Cos. focused efforts along the Rappahannock .”