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Experts question museum's timeline
Professionals doubt whether 2007 is a realistic opening date for Fredericksburg's U.S. National Slavery Museum.

Date published: 8/30/2004


RALEIGH, N.C.--There's been talk of a national museum of African-American history in the nation's capital for nearly a century.

And even with last year's congressional approval and President Bush's authorization to go forward, that project is judged to be at least a decade away.

With the National Museum of African American History and Culture and others in mind, experts in the business of building and running museums related to African-American history are skeptical of statements the U.S. National Slavery Museum can open in Fredericksburg in 2007.

"I will be there to say, 'Hooray,' if that happens," said Steven Newsome, director emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture.

"At the same time, I would urge people not to be disappointed if it doesn't happen because the development of cultural institutions is a long process."

Newsome, who is serving as an adviser for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, estimates it will take 10 to 15 years and $500 million to build the Washington museum.

He noted the time it took to create two other Washington museums--the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. The Holocaust museum took 13 to 15 years, depending on whether the starting point is President Jimmy Carter's establishment of a commission in 1978 or congressional action in 1980. It took 15 years for the American Indian museum, which opens Sept. 21.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's dream to build a slavery museum was inspired by a trip to Goree Island in West Africa in 1993. The idea percolated over the next few years, and several sites were considered before Fredericksburg got the nod in October 2001.

Since then, Wilder has hired and released the museum's first executive director and put the second one in place last fall.

Executive Director Vonita W. Foster has so far declined to say how much money has been raised for the museum or provide a detailed status report. But a board member said last month that the cost is now estimated at $100 million, and Foster says the opening date is unchanged.

"From all that we have been told by our builder, our engineer and our architect, we will be open in 2007--and they've done this sort of thing before," Foster said last week.

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