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Therbia Parker deserves his slavery artifacts, Mr. Wilder

 Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in 2001.
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Date published: 2/17/2011

VONITA FOSTER, of late the executive director of the U.S. National Slavery Museum, once wrote a children's book called "The Great Little Boy Who Grew Up to Be a Great Man: L. Douglas Wilder." Mr. Wilder can live up to--or tarnish--that appellation now with the way he handles some leftover slavery museum business.

Mr. Wilder's passion to put a slavery museum in Fredericksburg was a good idea that's now derailed, although Mr. Wilder continues to deny that fact. In a letter sent Tuesday night to The Free Lance-Star, the former governor said he remains committed to build the U.S. National Slavery Museum on "the beautiful piece of land we own off the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va."

He made no mention of the $147,000 in back taxes owed the city. (Part of that tab dates from 2008.) Nor did he note that the museum's office in Fredericksburg is closed, the telephones disconnected, and the staff gone. The project's license to solicit charitable contributions expired years ago, as did the permit required to build the museum.

In fact, fundraising for the museum ceased well in advance of the "historically deep recession" that Mr. Wilder blames for the donation desertification. The museum reported a precipitous drop in collections two years before the recession--from $938,186 in 2005 to $383,582 in 2006. There came a slight rebound in 2007, to $577,173. Clearly, the fundraising pattern was skewed by something other than the general economic miasma.

Many individuals and groups--from comedian Bill Cosby to the Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site)--contributed to Mr. Wilder's dream, hopeful that slavery's story would be told and told well. Many are now disappointed, among them Therbia Parker.

Mr. Parker and his wife, Marva, of Suffolk climbed on board Mr. Wilder's project in 2004 with a unique gift: a collection of slavery and Jim Crow-era artifacts they'd been gathering over the years. Leg and wrist shackles, 19th-century newspaper articles, and a first-edition copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" were among the treasures in the estimated $75,000 trove. Now the Parkers wonder just what's happened to their artifacts.


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