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Showing us his Bottom
Does Richmond covet Doug Wilder's slavery museum?

Date published: 2/27/2009

DOUG WILDER'S dance with Fredericksburg to the tune of "The U.S. National Slavery Museum" has not, to speak politely, been an entirely graceful one. To speak less politely, he's stepped all over us. Are you sure you want to cut in, Richmond?

Some Richmond officials, reports the Times-Dispatch, believe that the Holy City's trendy Shockhoe Bottom would be a good place to put the museum, which is going nowhere fast in Fredericksburg. They have a case: For two decades before, and during, the Civil War, Richmond was America's largest domestic slave market. On the other hand, Greater Fredericksburg is second to no area of the state--or nation--in the hell played by Blue and Gray during America's mass fratricide. What better preface to that sad story than a slavery museum that highlights its primary cause?

But the main issue for any locality interested in the facility isn't historical "fit," but the project's Prometheus, Mr. Wilder--former Virginia governor, former Richmond mayor, and current Fredericksburg stiffer.

Mr. Wilder evidently divides the world into two camps: (1) those who uncritically support him and (2) enemies. Thus, in 2001, when this newspaper questioned aspects of the slavery-museum deal Mr. Wilder presented to the City Council, we earned an indelible (2) classification. When last year the council, previously compliant in all Mr. Wilder's wishes, denied him a retroactive tax break on 38 acres of Celebrate Virginia property--land that had one garden to show for seven years of palaver--it got a (2), too. For months now, Mr. Wilder has refused to talk with local media, city officials, or area business leaders about the museum or anything else. Rumors of alien abduction apparently are false. He has been sighted in Richmond.

To recap: Mr. Wilder isn't talking. The slavery museum isn't moving forward. Its local office is vacant. Its $85,000-a-year executive director has reportedly resigned. Former Fredericksburg Mayor Lawrence Davies, an African-American, is unsure he's still on the museum board. A November tax bill to the city of more than $24,000 remains unpaid.

Good luck to Richmond if it chooses to cut a rug with the cantankerous Mr. Wilder. It may be time for Fredericksburg to simply cut its losses.