“National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.”
“Wow”, I thought, sitting down at the wood table at the Hosmer Library in Minneapolis, flipping through the National Geographic coffee table book. “I was in Fredricksburg. This is what I wanted to see. How did I miss it?”
I fingered the glossy color photos, absorbed deep descriptions of each gallery, architectural details, interviews with famous African American backers. It took an hour of reading to realize there was just one little problem.
The museum did not exist.
Douglas Wilder, first Black man elected governor of Virginia, conceived the project in 2001. He convinced a private developer to donate land, hired architects and began collecting artifacts. He asked the Fredericksburg City Council to give the project tax-exempt status. They refused. Four years later they increased the property’s taxes 20-fold.
In 2008 museum boosters published this book. In 2011, a freedom garden — the only part of the Museum project completed— was abandoned, allowed to go to seed. The project filed for bankruptcy two weeks before my partner and I biked into Fredericksburg — mile 4000 of our 12,000 journey, eager to take in every people’s history site we could find.
I checked online for an update. In October, 2013, the city reclaimed the land, sold it to a baseball stadium developer for a dollar. The city built stadium parking on adjacent land for a taxpayer cost of eight million.In 2015, despite all this generous corporate welfare the baseball plan was stalled. The saga continues.
A museum telling the three-century story of slavery and resistance, is a desperate need. Fredrickburg invites tourists to visit their civil war battleground, to learn the gory details of a fight that took thousands of lives – a battle that Confederates won. They need a place where people can contemplate the context of that bloody war.
At least replant the freedom garden – a place to contemplate how we finish that battle for justice.