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Motorcyclists raise money for slavery museum project CRUISING FOR CHARITY
Motorcyclist group holds Freedom Ride to benefit planned U.S. National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg

 Motorcycles and cars caravan from First Baptist Church of Love to the site of the U.S. National Slavery Museum in Celebrate Virginia.
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Date published: 9/2/2007


Former second-grade teacher Dee Dee Smith doesn't think today's kids know a lot about slavery.

"I guess it's something people just don't talk about," she said.

If they did, kids would appreciate what they have: their freedom, their homes, their education and their opportunities to one day hold good jobs, she said.

So she can't wait for the U.S. National Slavery Museum to open in Fredericksburg.

That's one reason she showed up for yesterday's Freedom Ride through Fredericksburg. The caravan, sponsored by First Baptist Church of Love and The Crusaders Motorcycle Club of Virginia, raised about $1,800 for the slavery museum.

But Smith also came out simply because it was a beautiful day for a ride from the church to the museum site in Celebrate Virginia.

That was what the Rev. Hashmel Turner counted on when he organized the event.

Turner, a Fredericksburg city councilman and pastor of First Baptist Church of Love, prayed for inspiration for a fundraiser for the museum, proposed to open in 2009 or 2010.

He knew bikers would jump at the chance for a ride on Labor Day weekend. And he wanted to give them an excuse.

King Stewart came from Marshall in northern Fauquier County for the event, and said he'd show up no matter what the cause. As Turner thought, he was just looking for a chance to hop on his bike and cruise.

"You can just get caught up in the hustle and bustle," Stewart said. "When you're on a motorcycle, it's just like it vanishes, your trials and tribulations. It's instant peace of mind."

For others, such as 71-year-old rider Bill Brooks, the cause was especially important. He attends Mount Zion Baptist Church, a Spotsylvania County church that was started 148 years ago for slaves.

"A lot of people are still in darkness, and the museum will enlighten people about what slaves went through back then," Brooks said.

Charles Boone Jr., a biker from the Mayfield neighborhood in Fredericksburg, wanted to raise money for the museum because it will bring needed attention to black history. While Fredericksburg is steeped in history, it often ignores the slaves, he said.

The history will make some uncomfortable and even angry, Boone said, but it's important to tell the full story.

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1993--Then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder proposes a slavery museum while visiting Africa. OCT. 8, 2001--Fredericksburg is chosen to host the museum. The city beats out Richmond, Hampton and Petersburg. MARCH 26, 2002--Fredericksburg City Council votes to loan $1 million to museum and creates a special tax district to recover the money. DEC. 4, 2002--Museum director Earl Yates announces the museum will open in February 2007. DEC. 21, 2002--Work begins on the museum site as crews start removing trees. AUG. 13, 2003--Vonita Foster is named the new executive director of the museum. MARCH 2003--Museum officials announce that the site has been cleared, erosion-control measures completed and a master plan for exhibits laid out. SEPT. 24, 2004--Comedian Bill Cosby pledges to do 10 performances to raise money for the museum. JUNE 8, 2005--Foster tells the city Planning Commission the museum's opening date will be moved to October 2007. JUNE 3, 2006--About 1,100 people attend a gala hosted by entertainers Bill Cosby and Ben Vereen to raise money for the museum. The event is the first major fundraiser for the museum. SEPT. 2006--Cosby introduces a campaign to get each American to donate $8 to the museum. MARCH 2007--Cosby steps up the $8 campaign with a YouTube-esque challenge, asking Americans to combine their homemade videos with clips of Cosby for a donation of $8. JUNE 21, 2007--The Spirit of Freedom garden opens on the grounds of the museum. Foster predicts a "soft opening" of the museum in 2008 and an official opening in 2009 or 2010.

The Rev. Louis Jackson formed The Crusaders Motorcycle Club in 1993 to win souls for Christ, said Bill Brooks, one of the original members of the group. From the beginning, the bikers rode to raise money for charities and to set an example as Christians.

"We don't get out and ride and act all foolish, drinking and such," Brooks said. "Riding is fun, but at the same time, every chance you get to witness for Christ, you take it."

The group holds rides throughout the year to raise money for the Fredericksburg Area Sickle Cell Association, area sick people, a kidney dialysis center and other nonprofit groups. Last year, it gave out $5,800, Brooks said.

Dee Dee Smith's parents belong to The Crusaders, and she said the group breaks down the image most people have of bikers.

"A lot of people used to look at motorcyclists like the outlaws, the bad guys, but these clubs, every event they have, they give money to different charities," she said.

MAIL TO: U.S. National Slavery Museum

1320 Central Park Blvd., Suite 251

Fredericksburg, Va. 22401

ONLINE: usnsm.org