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Slavery museum will be built, Wilder says
Wilder says slavery museum will be built in Fredericksburg

Date published: 2/16/2011

BY BILL TOLBERT

L. Douglas Wilder, former Virginia governor and the chairman of the board of the U.S. National Slavery Museum, said last night that the museum will be built in Fredericksburg on the land the museum owns in Celebrate Virginia.

In an e-mail sent to The Free Lance-Star, Wilder wrote, "I want to say this as plainly and directly as I can: We intend to build the United States National Slavery Museum. And we will build it on the beautiful piece of land we own off the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va. No one should hold any doubt about either of those facts."

In the statement, Wilder also addressed the status of artifacts that have been donated to the museum.

That issue was the subject of a Free Lance-Star story Sunday about Therbia Parker Sr. and his wife, Marva, of Suffolk, who gave the museum 95 items in 2004. Therbia Parker expressed concern over the items, which they valued at more than $75,000, saying he didn't know where they were or the status of the museum.

The Parkers said efforts to get museum officials to respond to them had been unsuccessful.

The items included leg and wrist shackles that once restrained slaves, 19th-century newspaper articles and posters advertising slaves for sale, a first edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and more.

While not specifically addressing the items from the Parkers, Wilder said in the statement that people have donated priceless artifacts that will help the museum become a national treasure.

"All of those items are being held safely in storage because we want nothing to happen to them," he wrote. "All such items are receiving due care and being kept in good faith because we look in anticipation to the day when we can begin sharing them with new generations of Americans.

"Our donors don't want anything to happen to these future exhibits for the very same reason we don't: They must properly be displayed as a looking glass into a time that must never be forgotten or repeated."

In the e-mail, Wilder didn't address the $147,000 the museum owes Fredericksburg in back taxes, unpaid since 2008.

He didn't respond last night to a reply e-mail sent to him asking about the tax debt.

Wilder blamed the economy for the fact that plans for the facility have ground to a halt.

"Not just Virginia, not just America, but the entire world has been plunged into a historically deep recession," he wrote. "The United States National Slavery Museum was not immune from those same circumstances."

He said the economy led the museum to "take a pause" in collecting funds.

"Once things have sufficiently recovered to the point that we can resume full-fledged fundraising efforts, we, indeed, will. Until that time we are in standby mode."

He concluded by saying no one should make any mistake about plans to complete the museum.

"It is too important to stop now," he wrote.

Bill Tolbert: 540/374-5408
Email: btolbert@freelancestar.com


We are committed to the United States National Slavery Museum

By L. Douglas Wilder,
Chairman, Board of Directors
United States National Slavery Museum

On behalf of the board of directors, of which I am the chairman, I want to say this as plainly and directly as I can: We intend to build the United States National Slavery Museum. And we will build it on the beautiful piece of land we own off the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va. No one should hold any doubt about either of those facts.

This museum is too important to Virginia and this country for any of us currently involved with its creation to even consider surrendering to the current economic conditions that have made finishing this project a more complex task than we could have originally foreseen. Just because the endeavor has become more difficult for us to complete, that does not mean this board will quit on what we believe to be an important American mission.

Again, as plainly and directly as I can, I want to say, on behalf of the board: We are undaunted. We are committed to the United States National Slavery Museum.

But we also are realistic. Not just Virginia, not just America, but the entire world has been plunged into a historically deep recession. The United States National Slavery Museum was not immune from those same circumstances. Because of that, fundraising for the museum became more challenging. That is not unique to our venture, but it is a fact. In response to the current economic conditions, we decided it was in the best interest of the museum to take a pause in collecting money. Once things have sufficiently recovered to the point that we can resume full-fledged fundraising efforts, we, indeed, will. Until that time we are in standby mode.

Is this where we wanted to be at this point? No. Are we adjusting to uncertain times? Yes, we are - for the ultimate betterment of our museum. We know the mission of the museum will have to get tighter and more focused. We know the facility will have to be scaled down. And we also look forward to a return to aggressive fundraising in the near future for what we know must be a leaner project. What we on the board will not do is prematurely say, "No mas," when we believe, 100 percent, that this project can and will be completed.

Since the inception of the United States National Slavery Museum we on the board have been fortunate to interact with a great number of people who are enthusiastic to see its shelves lined with artifacts and its lobby full of waiting visitors. Many people who share our vision have donated priceless artifacts that have made the board eager to open a facility we know will become a national treasure because it will be filled with uncommon history. All of those items are being held safely in storage because we want nothing to happen to them. All such items are receiving due care and being kept in good faith because we look in anticipation to the day when we can begin sharing them with new generations of Americans.

Our donors don't want anything to happen to these future exhibits for the very same reason we don't: They must properly be displayed as a looking glass into a time that must never be forgotten or repeated. And that is how they will be displayed - in the United States National Slavery Museum.

Until the time that we can have the building completed and the glass cases polished, our land in Fredericksburg does currently boast what we have named the Freedom Garden. A corps of volunteers has come forward to maintain its look for visitors to see today. From that garden, the rest of our vision will grow.

Yes, we still intend to build the United States National Slavery Museum. No one should make any mistake about that. It is too important to stop now.