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Time to let the slavery museum dream die
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and Circuit Judge Joseph Ellis agrees. In the case of the slavery museum there's been enough stalling, enough "restructuring," enough avoiding the inevitable. Now, the judge has ordered the sale of the museum property--38 acres in Celebrate Virginia--to pay taxes owed on the land.
Long before baseball was even a twinkle in local leaders' eyes, the idea of the U.S. National Slavery Museum was dead. Not that the community didn't want it: The city offered a $1 million inducement for former Gov. Doug Wilder to locate the museum here. The Silver Cos. donated valuable land. And this newspaper welcomed the idea in editorials beginning 12 years ago, when Mr. Wilder first announced his plans.
Alas, it was not to be. Although backed at first by donors large and small, the project lost steam. Funds dried up. Bills went unpaid. Mr. Wilder's insistence that the museum would be built began to sound more like denial than destiny. Museum officials went into perpetual hiding, avoiding contact not only with reporters, but with city and Silver Cos. officials and, sadly, with donors and contributors as well.
Some who gave valuable and rare artifacts to the museum are wondering where their treasures are. Others, like the sculptor of the art in the weed-besieged garden at the museum site, have been left in limbo. Meanwhile, the community's hopes for a museum to tell slavery's story have been dashed.
Judge Ellis's ruling allows the auction of the slavery museum property to go forward. That could take place within 30 days. The museum owes $445,000 in back taxes to the city of Fredericksburg and a hefty $6 million to Pei Partnership Architects for design work.
Meanwhile, a group aiming to bring minor league baseball to Fredericksburg had considered the site for a new stadium and associated baseball fields. But they've begun looking at other properties in Celebrate Virginia. Understandably, they're not willing to get bogged down in the ongoing legal mess surrounding Mr. Wilder's unrealized dream.
The slavery museum can appeal the judge's decision. Or it could ante up the money it owes in back taxes. Or it could still cut a deal, along with Pei, its primary creditor, with the baseball folks.
Mr. Wilder has quite a legacy in Virginia as the first black governor and mayor of Richmond. Surely he is wise enough to see the handwriting on the wall for the museum project. It's time to end the charade, let go of the land, and return the artifacts--which may be welcome at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture now being built in Washington.
The slavery story needs to be told and told well. After 12 years, the Frederickburg site lies fallow. It's time to turn it to another use and for Mr. Wilder to square up accounts as best he can and move on.