United States National Slavery Museum
The United States National Slavery Museum is a non-profit organization based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, that has been fund raising and campaigning since 2001 to establish a national museum on slavery in America. The museum is intended to have as its primary mission education, re-education, and policy formation regarding slavery in America and its enduring legacy. Former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder is the museum project's founder. The project, however, effectively, died in 2008 due to its inability to raise sufficient funds to pay property taxes, let alone begin construction. Then on September 22, 2011, the organization filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fredericksburg. Earlier in the year its founder, Douglas Wilder, was refusing to respond to or answer any questions from either news reporters or patrons who had donated artifacts.
It was on October 8, 2001, that Wilder had originally announced his intention to build a National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, on 38 acres donated by the Silver Company at the Celebrate Virginia Retail and Tourism complex. The site overlooks the Rappahannock River and is located less than one mile from Interstate 95 (the principal North-South artery for the U.S. East Coast). Originally projected to open in 2004, the museum was to be part of the state's "Celebrate Virginia" development along the busy I-95 travel corridor between Richmond and Washington DC.
In 2005 the Fredericksburg City Council set a deadline to begin construction by August 1, 2008, in order for the project to retain its special-use permit (allowing the planned building to exceed zoning restrictions on height.) The museum project made its last tax payment on May 15, 2008, and the following day the executive director wrote the City Council to request to delay construction for one year (until August 2009). In June 2008, (then Mayor of Richmond) Douglas Wilder appeared before the City Council to ask for an exemption to pay real-estate taxes (retroactive to 2002), but this request was denied on June 24, 2008, by a vote of 6-1. By the end of the year the project's leased offices in Fredericksburg were reported to be vacant. The local Fredericksburg newspaper reported in February 2009 that the offices had never had much staff beyond Executive Director Vonita Foster and one assistant.
There has been no work at the site since 2007, when a small (one-third acre) Spirit of Freedom Garden was dedicated. In June 2008 L. Douglas Wilder requested that the museum be granted tax-exempt status, which was denied. From that time, taxes on the land had not been paid and the property was at risk of being sold at auction by the city of Fredericksburg.
According to a news report in mid-August 2011, the museum property has an assessed value of $7.6 million, and delinquent property taxes for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011 amount to just over $215,000. Virginia tax authorities said the property became eligible to be sold as a tax sale on December 31, 2010. Official notification of the commonwealth's intent to sell the property was planned for late August 2011, but a tax official said it was unlikely "anything would really happen" for six months (until early 2012), and the planned tax sale would be dropped if taxes were paid. But then the organization filed for Chapter 11 protection in September, although it remains unclear if the purpose was reorganization or liquidation.
On October 21, 2013, the Hagerstown Suns and Diamond Nation finalized an agreement to purchase the land of the proposed museum property. Under the deal, the city of Fredericksburg will receive $450,000 in back taxes owed from the US National Slavery Museum's failure to pay its taxes.
The former Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, committed 11 million dollars in state funds toward the 30-plus million needed to build a National Museum of Slavery in the Shockoe Bottom, in Richmond, Virginia. A development project will include the museum, new business and residential properties, a Kroger grocery store, and a baseball stadium, which will help improve a generally depressed area. The National Museum of Slavery will be built next to a slave graveyard and what is considered (after New Orleans) the second-largest slave trading station in U.S. history. In a February 10, 2014, Richmond City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to commit $5 million to honor slave-history sites. This complements the $11 million proposed by McDonnell. This deal does not include funding for a ballpark. Future ballpark plans are expected to go alongside the museum in Shockoe Bottom.
- Davis, Chelyen "Slavery museum files for bankruptcy", Fredericksburg.com, September 23, 21; accessed 28 October 2011.
- Hannon, Kelly "Slavery Museum Donors Ignored", "The FreeLance Star", February 13, 2011; accessed 14 August 2011.
- Gould, Pamela, "Slavery museum's future in doubt", "The FreeLance Star", February 21, 2009, Accessed December 29, 2010
- Hannon, Kelly, "Land Sale Looms for Museum Site", "The FreeLance Star", December 29, 2010, Accessed December 29, 2010
- Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, Sunday August 14, 2011, Metro page B-2, "Slavery Museum Misses Tax Deadline"; accessed 14 August 2011.
- Douglas Wilder website