Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s plan to build a United
States National Slavery Museum not far from the nation’s capital is almost
eight years behind schedule and his group is mired in so much debt that it
recently filed for bankruptcy.
A story in Sunday’s Washington
Post catalogued an array of problems by the group, raising doubt about
whether the museum will ever be built.
“The U.S. Slavery Museum filed for bankruptcy this fall,”
the story stated. “Firms have filed claims totaling more than $7 million. The
city of Fredericksburg has threatened to sell the land because of more than
$200,000 in unpaid real-estate taxes. Officials have asked the court to either
liquidate the organization or appoint a trustee to oversee its finances.”
No one expected to receive this kind of news in the middle
of Black History Month.
Wilder, who became the nation’s first elected
African-American governor in 1990, unveiled plans in 1993 for a $100 million
museum that would sit on 38 acres of land 49 miles south of Washington, D.C.
Wilder, who continues to serve as chairman of the board of the museum,
announced the appointment of a half-dozen high-profile board members, including
Bill Cosby, historian John Hope Franklin, and the presidents of Howard and
In a statement, Wilder said: “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.”
The problem with Wilder’s statement is that the “current
economic conditions” have not existed for the past two decades. And the museum
is not in standby mode – it’s in neutral or reverse.
According to various accounts, Wilder, who served as mayor
of Richmond from 2005-2009, has been inaccessible.
The story in the Washington
Post reads: “‘Governor Wilder disappeared,’ said Rev. Lawrence Davies, the
former longtime mayor of Fredericksburg who was a member of the board. Davies
stopped getting notices about board meetings, and when he tried to reach
Wilder, he never heard back. ‘No one could get through to him,’ Davies said.
‘We didn’t know what to think.’”
Slavery was an international tragedy that should never be
According to historian Eric Foner, approximately 10 million
Africans were enslaved and forced to make the difficult trip across the
Atlantic Ocean between 1500 and 1820 in chains and squalor.
Although most Africans ended up in what is now the United
States, many elected officials have been unwilling to recognize the horror –
and lingering effects – of slavery.
Yet Liverpool, England has operated an impressive
International Slavery Museum since 2007.
“The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced
migration in history,” Museum Director David Fleming says on its Web site. “And
yet the story of the mass enslavement of Africans by Europeans is one of
resilience and surviving against the odds, and is a testament to the
unquenchable nature of the human spirit.”
The museum opened on August 22, which is recognized by the
United Nations as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and
The UN provides the following background on the
“In late August, 1791, an uprising began in Santo Domingo
(today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) that would have a major effect on
abolishing the transatlantic slave trade. The slave rebellion in the area
weakened the Caribbean colonial system, sparking an uprising that led to
abolishing slavery and giving the island its independence. It marked the
beginning of the destruction of the slavery system, the slave trade and
It continued, “International Day for the Remembrance of the
Slave Trade and its Abolition was first celebrated in many countries, in
particular in Haiti, on August 23, 1998, and in Senegal on August 23, 1999.
Each year the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) reminds the international community about the importance of
commemorating this day. This date also pays tribute to those who worked hard to
abolish slave trade and slavery throughout the world. This commitment and the
actions used to fight against the system of slavery had an impact on the human
The slavery remembrance day is not widely observed in the
When plans for the U.S. National Slavery Museum were first
announced, it was hoped that it would be on par with the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. that “inspires citizens and
leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human
Today, however, Doug Wilder’s promise of a national slavery
museum is as empty as the 38 acres it was supposed to sit on.
George E. Curry,
former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a
keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web
site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at
Spying on Sharpton and Other Black Leaders
Back To Columns