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Panel, townsfolk to scrutinize slavery museum
Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder will speak at a forum Thursday on his proposed slavery museum.

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Date published: 11/13/2001

Area residents will hear from former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder at a public forum Thursday on his proposed slavery museum.

Wilder will outline his vision for the facility, slated to be built on 22 acres in Fredericksburg's Celebrate Virginia development, at 7:30 p.m. in the James Monroe High School auditorium.

Audience members will be able to submit written questions there, and a three-member panel will select questions for Wilder and museum consultant Michael Neiditch to answer.

Neiditch, who previously worked as director of endowment for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said he's excited about the visit.

"[The audience] gets to see where we are now, which is the very beginning, and we get to listen," he said. "We look forward to hearing the questions of the people of Fredericksburg because we'll be working together for a long time."

Mayor Bill Beck will moderate the discussion. He has selected three local educators for the panel: Patrick Garland, history teacher at James Monroe High School; Carter Hudgins, history and American studies professor at Mary Washington College; and Brenda Sloan, special-collections librarian at the college.

Beck, who has expressed some concern about a slavery museum in Celebrate Virginia, said the panelists will serve as objective interviewers.

Sloan, who also is a member of the executive committee of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center board, said she sees her role as Beck does.

"The panel is not there for commentary. The panel is there to ask the questions," she said.

Sloan was quoted in an Oct. 25 issue of The Bullet, MWC's student newspaper, as saying she doesn't agree with the museum board's site choice.

Garland spoke in support of putting the museum in Fredericksburg at an Aug. 14 City Council meeting. Hudgins has not publicly expressed an opinion.

Former Councilman George Van Sant, chairman of the tourism committee created by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, is encouraging tourism committee members to submit questions. He sent members a memo last week with questions to consider, including:

"How will the museum impact our local tourism initiative?"

"How can our schools be involved, K-12 and higher ed?"

"What kind of research will occur at the museum?"

Although the chamber board voted to support the museum effort, Van Sant said the tourism committee has not taken a position.

"I think by and large we're going to go to that meeting with an open mind, as far as the possibilities," he said.

The City Council voted in August to contribute $1 million toward the museum if the three-member museum board decided to put it in Fredericksburg. The money would be repaid through a special tax on Celebrate Virginia property owners.

Wilder has said the museum could cost up to $200 million, much of which he hopes to raise through private donations.

The council's contribution is contingent upon Wilder's presentation and a final vote.