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Museum chief seeks citizenry's support
U.S. National Slavery Museum is set for completion in 2008, its executive director tells NAACP.

Date published: 3/3/2006

By EDIE GROSS

The U.S. National Slavery Museum is backed by plenty of heavies.

Entertainers Bill Cosby and Ben Vereen. Corporations like McDonald's and Wal-Mart.

But support from average citizens--people committed to learning about the cultural, political and economic impact of slavery in America--will provide the bedrock for the facility, a museum official told members of the Spotsylvania NAACP last night.

"This museum should be embraced by all Americans," said Vonita Foster, the museum's executive director. "You don't have to be wealthy. If everyone gave a dollar, this could actually happen really soon.

"When you're dealing with first-class architects, builders and structural engineers when you're dealing with top-notch people, it costs."

The 290,000-square-foot museum is expected to cost about $100 million to build. Museum officials have raised about half that in cash and pledges.

The facility will be able to offer "soft openings" in 2007 to give members of the public a peek at some of the 5,000 to 6,0000 slavery-era artifacts it has already collected, Foster said.

The entire museum will not be finished until 2008, she said, largely because of extra time that was needed to conduct wind tests on the proposed design. The highest point of the museum is expected to rise 150 feet to accommodate a full-scale replica of a slave ship.

A German firm provided those test results in late December, but the project is still slightly behind, Foster said.

A team of designers from California is about 60 percent done drawing up plans for the exhibit spaces, which will feature stories about life in African villages, the contributions of slaves to this country and the work of abolitionists--both black and white--to free them.

The museum also plans to offer DNA testing for those who want to know if they're descended from African slaves, she said.

"This building is not going to be like a Wal-Mart or a Target," Foster told about 30 members of the NAACP in Spotsylvania's Mount Hope Baptist Church. "It's going to bring pride to Fredericksburg, to Virginia and I think to America."

The museum, which is being designed by architect Chen Chung Pei, will be built on 38 acres in Fredericksburg's Celebrate Virginia South development overlooking the Rappahannock River.


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