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Museum surprised by black-history edict
With talk of a national slavery museum at the forefront in Fredericksburg, more attention is being paid to local black history.

 Carol Smith (left) of the Fredericksburg Area Museum talks with children from King George about its exhibit on slavery.
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Date published: 11/15/2001

A proposed slavery museum in Fredericksburg has sparked some talk about the attention being paid to local black history.

The Fredericksburg City Council even passed a resolution last month encouraging local museums and attractions to incorporate black history into their exhibits in order to receive city funding.

The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center is the only museum receiving money--$105,000--in this year's city budget. Museum Director Edwin Watson said he was taken aback by the resolution.

"We were surprised because of the amount of black history we try to interpret," he said. "We have tried to present a fair view, always have. Not just fair, but accurate."

Mayor Bill Beck, who sponsored the resolution, said he didn't intend to offend anyone. It was meant to "get people thinking and talking about the whole range of our history," he said.

Exhibits at the Fredericksburg Area Museum include several artifacts and documents related to black life in the area, including slave chains found at a nearby plantation and a door from a whites-only bathroom at a Falmouth gas station during the days of segregation.

Watson said he'd like to expand the displays that include black history, but the museum is challenged by a lack of space and the difficulty of finding records and artifacts related to slavery and turn-of-the-century black life.

"I hope the slavery museum takes off but I have the feeling it will be very difficult to find the objects," said Watson, who has been director of the area museum since it opened in 1986.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder will outline his vision for the slavery museum at a public forum at 7:30 tonight at James Monroe High School. Those who attend can submit written questions about the museum, which is slated to be built on 22 acres in Celebrate Virginia.

Wilder has said the facility will cost up to $200 million. He has not begun assembling a collection.

Representatives of other historic attractions in the city say they, too, have worked to include stories of black life. A brochure in the Fredericksburg Visitors Center offers tourists a quick summary of sites that were important to black life in the city.

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