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TIME TO ANTE UP: Wilder, Vereen request donations for National Slavery Museum
National Slavery Museum officials ask corporate America to contribute to their effort

 Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, chair of the U.S. National Slavery Museum board, speaks yesterday afternoon to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington about the purpose of and plans for the Fredericksburg museum.
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Date published: 2/8/2006


WASHINGTON--Officials with the U.S. National Slavery Museum are appealing to corporate America to help fund the facility slated to open in Fredericksburg next year.

The requests, from former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and entertainer Ben Vereen, punctuated a luncheon yesterday designed to kick off a major fundraising effort for the museum.

"This is our Holocaust Museum," Vereen told a crowd of about 160 at the National Press Club. "I'm asking the churches to come forward. I'm asking corporate America--we need you. We bought your cars. We bought your cigarettes. Now it's time to tally up."

Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond and head of the museum board, said some of America's oldest companies have acknowledged and apologized for their past involvement in this country's slave trade. He mentioned the JPMorgan and Wachovia financial services firms by name.

The museum has approached those same organizations for donations, he said, but they have not yet made a commitment.

"All of these corporations should see participation in our campaign as enlightened self-interest," Wilder said. "We are calling for them now, not out of a sense of reparations but out of a sense of doing what is right."

Among the corporations that have pledged support for the project are McDonald's, Wal-Mart, US Airways, the Hyatt hotel chain and United Van Lines, Wilder said. He also said entertainer Bill Cosby, a museum board member, has donated about $1 million so far from shows he has performed.

Museum officials said cash and pledges toward the project total about $50 million, half of what is needed to construct the 290,000-square-foot museum. They want another $100 million as an endowment.

They're hoping to raise some of the construction money during a Feb. 19 gala at New York City's Lincoln Center, the first major fundraising event for the museum. Tickets cost $500 each, and officials are expecting between 350 and 400 people, said museum spokesman Mike Smith.

Vereen, a stage and film actor who starred as "Chicken" George Moore in the television drama "Roots," will headline the event with a tribute to the late Sammy Davis Jr.

At yesterday's luncheon, an energetic Vereen urged people of all races to join the fundraising campaign and recognize the museum's role in telling a vital part of America's history. Talking about one of this country's ugliest legacies will prevent it from recurring, he said.

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