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Sharing pieces of history Local couple donates items to slavery museum
Fredericksburg couple donates more than 150 items to U.S. National Slavery Museum

 Thomas and Toni Lewis have donated more than 150 items to the U.S. National Slavery Museum. The couple's Spotsylvania home is filled with antiques they collect from yard sales and auctions.
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Date published: 2/18/2006


Thomas and Toni Lewis' home is flooded with antiques.

During the summer, the couple goes on weekend excursions to antiques stores, yard sales and auctions. They buy anything that catches their eyes, and often return to their Spotsylvania County home with more stuff than they have space for.

"If you came to our house, you'd be like 'wow!'" said Toni Lewis, 52. "We have a little bit of everything. From the old record players--the ones that you crank up--to an organ piano from 1846 that has the original music to it."

In late 2004, the Lewises realized they had to get rid of some of their stuff.

That's when they heard about the U.S. National Slavery Museum planned for Fredericksburg. The Lewises wanted to donate their artifacts to a good cause, and the slavery museum seemed like a worthy recipient.

Vonita Foster, executive director of the museum, visited the Lewises' home. What she saw fascinated her.

"They have so much," Foster said. "You don't find a lot of African-Americans who collect. These people are really astute collectors, and they're willing to give."

Since December 2004, the Lewises have donated more than 150 artifacts to the slavery museum. Their contributions include a spinning wheel, a kerosene-powered curling iron, an old harmonica and a variety of other household items.

Toni Lewis remembers having similar things at home as a child.

"The wooden spinner--I remember my mom using something like that," she said. "I was a little girl, but I can picture her there on a stool in the kitchen in front of this big thing making quilts and spinning thread. And I was like, 'That's something!'"

Most of the couple's donations will appear in family-life exhibits at the museum, said museum spokesman Michael J. Smith.

"Family exhibits will show people what everyday life was like for a slave," Smith said. "Children can see what it was like to be a child during slavery."

The Lewises say they plan on contributing more in the future. Foster estimates the museum could receive up to 1,000 artifacts from the couple by the time it finishes donating.

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