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Spotlight will shine on museum
U.S. National Slavery Museum to give public its first glimpse of what's to come

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Date published: 8/8/2004


It's been more than 11 years since former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder revealed his dream of creating a slavery museum, and nearly three since the grandson of slaves announced he would build it in Fredericksburg.

Now museum officials say the dream--inspired by a visit to Goree Island in West Africa when Wilder was governor--is headed toward reality. And they're ready to provide the first public look at what's in store.

A sample of the nearly 6,000 artifacts collected thus far by the U.S. National Slavery Museum is being prepared for display at the Ridderhof Martin Gallery on the University of Mary Washington campus.

There, in an exhibition running from Aug. 25 through Oct. 8, visitors will see items dating from the 17th century to contemporary times. There will be slave shackles, a bill of sale, plantation ledgers, a slave coin, musical instruments and ceremonial robes Wilder received in Senegal and Nigeria on that dream-inspiring trip to the continent of his ancestors.

Visitors to "Reflections on American Slavery: Selections from the Collections of the United States Slavery Museum" will also get to see a drawing of a replica slave ship that museum officials say will be the facility's centerpiece and visible from Interstate 95 coming south.

And they will get their first glimpse of the final design for what Executive Director Vonita W. Foster said will be a three-story structure stretching over 250,000 square feet.

A model of the museum will be on display, as well as the floor plans and a color sketch of the exterior. Chien Chung Pei, son of I.M. Pei and partner in the New York-based Pei Partnership Architects, designed the glass-fronted building.

Though Foster declined to say where the museum is in its fund raising, the project got a boost recently when more precise cost estimates cut the overall tab in half.

Originally, Wilder said the museum could cost as much as $200 million. But with Pei's design completed and a construction estimate in hand from Fisher Brothers in New York, the price tag was whittled down to $100 million, according to museum board member Jacob Gelt Dekker.

"I think we can easily do that," Dekker said of the $100 million.

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