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Museum woes
The city moves to sell the Slavery Museum property for back taxes

Date published: 7/20/2011

PATIENCE is a virtue. Forbearance when a debt comes due, especially in tough financial times, is commendable. But after patience and forbearance have had their day, it's time for action. This the city of Fredericksburg is doing by preparing to sell the property owned by the U.S. National Slavery Museum.

It's not that the city doesn't want the project: Indeed, it has had broad support--including a donation of a pricey piece of land by the Silver Cos. After all, the story of American slavery is an important one and needs to be told. And, speaking pragmatically, tourism is a cash cow around here, and the museum, perched on a beautiful ridge overlooking the Rappahannock River, would feed that cow well.

But after a string of unfilled promises from former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the would-be founder and chairman of the museum board, it's clear the museum is more wispy vision than anything else. The museum's office has been closed for years, its staff gone, and its permit to collect charitable donations expired and left unrenewed. Phone calls go unanswered, as do emails, and the only enhancement to the museum site--a garden--lies unattended, besieged by weeds.

As recently as February, the elusive Mr. Wilder asserted that "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." These intentions, however, have not been followed by the simple payment of a tax bill, much less the assembling of bricks and mortar.

And so the city, eyeing the more than $215,000 in back taxes that the museum owes, is moving, on behalf of city taxpayers, to sell the museum property, valued at $7.6 million. That's both appropriate and a shame. It didn't have to end that way. It shouldn't have. But along with vision comes the responsibility to be practical: i.e., to pay taxes. The city, regrettably, is doing the right thing.