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Museum can help solve problems
Slavery museum official speaks at UMW

 Gerald Foster, a scholar-in-residence at the U.S. National Slavery Museum, spoke at UMW last night.
ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 2/13/2007

By JEFF BRANSCOME

A researcher for the United States National Slavery Museum says elements of slavery still exist today.

But Gerald A. Foster thinks the museum, scheduled to open sometime next year, can help solve the problem.

"It's not a matter of blame; it's not a matter of guilt," he told about 20 people last night at the University of Mary Washington. "It's a matter of education, re-education and enlightenment."

UMW invited Foster, the museum's scholar-in-residence, to speak in celebration of Black History Month.

The former University of Richmond professor said the slavery museum is about "American history," not black history.

During the 30-minute speech, he showed a picture of a slave whose back had been badly scarred. This man, named Gordon, went on to serve as a Union sergeant in the Civil War, he said.

"I think the mission that we are trying to convey is despite all that happened to 4 million people, they were able to contribute," he said.

While much of his speech centered on the history of slavery, he explained how the museum will benefit everybody

"If we reflect, I think that all of us will be the better for having looked at an element of our history, an element of our country that is woefully lacking, woefully misrepresented."

He said the museum has collected about 40 percent of the $165 million it will cost to build it.

The facility is scheduled to open on the bank of the Rappahannock River in Celebrate Virginia.

"The biggest challenge, obviously, is fundraising," he said, noting that he thinks 2007 will be a "banner year."

During his talk, Foster said society still reinforces our prejudices, which is a component of slavery.

For instance, he said, Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing a corrupt cop. But critics overlooked the actor when he played "a strong black man" who did everything to help his son.

People justified slavery, in part because they were taught that black people weren't human, he said.

"I think it's important for us to look at the more human elements in terms of what has happened," he said.

He called the museum "a mandate," and "a charge we readily accept."

"What we do at the museum is that we establish the context and the perspective in terms of why today we're still dealing with the issue," Foster said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com