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A Richmond councilman is leading an effort to thwart construction of a slavery museum in Fredericksburg's Celebrate Virginia project.
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Date published: 11/21/2001
The Richmond Slave Trail Commission, created by the City Council to preserve the city's slave trail, claims the Fredericksburg site is too commercial.
The slavery museum's board of directors, headed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, chose a 22-acre site donated by Celebrate Virginia's developer over a similar-size parcel offered by Richmond. The Silver Cos.' plans for the tourism campus along the Rappahannock River include hotels, shops and offices.
"It is offensive and contradictory to have a museum that documents the struggles of slaves in America intertwined with a 'Celebrate Virginia' theme," the commission wrote in a report sent to Richmond and Fredericksburg officials.
The panel has asked the Richmond City Council to endorse its report. Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin said the commission also hopes to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus and civil-rights organizations to withhold support and funding for the museum unless it is moved.
In an interview yesterday, El-Amin said the only way to deal with the "insensitivity" of the site is to "challenge or at least intervene with potential supporters and potential donors."
Fredericksburg City Councilman Joe Wilson called the group's position "sour grapes."
But Mayor Bill Beck, who has opposed most Silver Cos. proposals, said he thinks the commission's report raises important questions.
"I didn't sense in the position paper that there was strong objection so much to Fredericksburg as there was strong objection to the commercial venue," Beck said.
During a public forum Thursday, Wilder stressed that the museum will not be part of, nor marketed with, Celebrate Virginia.
Silver Cos. Chief Executive Officer Larry Silver said yesterday the company now plans to donate more than 30 acres to create a bigger natural buffer between the museum and the adjacent development.
"It's well protected," he said of the museum site. "The critics have never, to my knowledge, seen the site plan, have never been on the site, and unfortunately I don't think even clearly know what they're talking about."
The commission's report also criticizes stores in nearby Central Park for selling merchandise produced by "modern-day slave labor." El-Amin said he was referring to Target and Kohl's, which he claimed sell products made by low-wage laborers in Nicaragua.