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Information on slavery museum hard to get
Would you like to know how plans are progressing for the U.S. National Slavery Museum--so would we

 The U.S. National Slavery Museum plans to open Spirit of Freedom Exhibit Garden on its grounds June 21.
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 2/20/2008

By Ed Jones

AS LOCAL stories go, it's potentially one of the biggest.

A national museum for the study of slavery, spearheaded by the first elected black governor in the United States, is proposed for Fredericksburg.

So how are the plans progressing? What's the latest construction schedule? What's the financial plan for building and operating the museum? Has fundraising picked up? Is $200 million the goal? Or is that $300 million? How much money did that major fundraising event in D.C. raise in 2006?

Haven't seen answers in The Free Lance-Star? There's a reason for that. We can't get the answers from museum officials or their representatives.

I asked three of our reporters who have worked on this story in recent years to describe museum leaders' attitudes toward releasing news about the project.

Every one of them documented a pattern of resistance to almost every request. One described the museum and its staff as "an impenetrable fortress."

The result has been that the public, and in some cases the public's representatives, have been left in the dark. Even Jud Honaker of the Silver Cos., the developer of the Celebrate Virginia project that would include the museum, has said he doesn't know where things stand.

That makes it hard to draw positive conclusions. Some city officials already refer to the museum in the past tense.

When we have written about this lack of information, the museum's side of the story generally hasn't been told--because the museum is unwilling to tell it.

Despite unfailing politeness on the part of our reporters, they have had to endure frustrations such as these:

A museum staff member literally shut the door in the face of one of our reporters when she arrived at museum offices with a written request to see a financial report the museum is required to make public.

Reporters calling museum offices to speak to the executive director, Vonita Foster, have been told that, "Dr. Foster does not take calls." They are referred to a Washington PR firm, which, in some cases, has taken days to return our calls. And then there are few answers.

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