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Museum planning D.C. gala
U.S. National Slavery Museum planning fundraiser at Washington's Constitution Hall

Date published: 8/31/2005

By PAMELA GOULD

The U.S. National Slavery Museum hopes to hold a gala fundraiser featuring entertainers Bill Cosby and Ben Vereen in Washington this winter.

The event is still in the planning stages, but museum spokesman Michael J. Smith said he hopes Cosby's and Vereen's schedules will allow them to appear together on one of the dates the DAR Constitutional Hall is available. Smith said the event is planned between mid-December and early January, with a January date more likely.

The event is part of the continuing fundraising efforts by slavery museum officials and would be one of the 10 performances Cosby said he would do to benefit the museum.

Museum founder and now Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder said in late July that the slavery museum will cost between $92 million and $100 million to build and that he would like to raise an additional $100 million as an endowment.

Earlier that month, Executive Director Vonita W. Foster said in a letter to Fredericksburg City Manager Phillip Rodenberg that the museum had pledges and cash donations totaling $49 million.

DAR Constitution Hall has a storied history in its race relations. In 1939, African-American singer Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to perform her Easter concert there because of her race.

But earlier this year, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution hosted the unveiling of the Marian Anderson commemorative stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.

At the January event, DAR President General Presley Merritt Wagoner said she wished she could rewrite history, but assured those present that the "DAR has learned from the past," according to her statement posted at the organization's Web site.

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt withdrew her membership from the DAR in 1939 after learning of its action and helped with plans for Anderson to instead sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial--a concert that drew 75,000.

Before her death in 1993, Anderson performed several times at Constitution Hall and initiated her farewell tour from that venue, according to the DAR.

Smith said the upcoming gala would be geared toward raising money from individuals and foundations as opposed to corporations. As a result, he said the upcoming fundraiser would generate less than $500,000 but that "every little bit helps."

DAR Constitution Hall has a seating capacity of 3,702.

The museum, which Wilder said will open in October 2007, is to be built on 38 acres within the Celebrate Virginia South tourism complex in Fredericksburg. The site sits just west of Interstate 95, overlooking the Rappahannock River.

Cosby serves on the museum's board. Last September, he announced at a black-tie gala held on the campus of the University of Mary Washington that he would give 10 performances to benefit the museum--an offer estimated to be worth $20 million.

To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/735-1972pgould@freelancestar.com