- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Still three years from its scheduled opening, the National Slavery Museum will give the public a look at its collection during an exhibit later this month.

The exhibit at the University of Mary Washington, which runs from Aug. 23 through Oct. 8, will feature documents and remnants of the nation’s slave-holding past.

“It’s emotional to see the richness of material,” said Venitta McCall, an associate professor, after touring “Reflections on American Slavery: Selected Objects from the Collections of the United States National Slavery Museum.” The pre-exhibit tour was at Ridderhof Martin Gallery.

“I would hope students would feel as strongly,” Miss McCall said of the emotional experience of viewing the exhibit.

The exhibit is the first glimpse into what’s planned for the museum, to be built on 38 acres in the Fredericksburg part of the Celebrate Virginia project. Executive Director Vonita Foster said last week that the museum is on track to open in 2007.

The Mary Washington show fills two exhibit rooms and a small alcove, and it includes African textiles, press accounts, sheet music, shackles and documents.

One document is an “estate settlement” that lists the owner’s property. It includes “one Negro man” valued at $333.33, “one Negro woman” valued at $320, a “Negro girl” valued at $175 and a second girl (indicated by the 1800s form of “ditto”) valued at $160.

The document also lists a watch valued at $6, a spice box worth $3 and a pair of candle snuffers worth 50 cents.

Tom Somma, director of galleries for Mary Washington, said it took a year to pull the show together. Gerald Foster, a university professor in Richmond, is serving as the museum’s volunteer scholar-in-residence. One of the items on display came from Mr. Foster — an 1846 slave coin passed down to him from his great-grandfather.

“A lot of times, what I looked for was some link to Virginia or some link to Fredericksburg,” Mr. Somma said of his selection of items for display.

One example is the 1840 census he left open to the page on Spotsylvania County. Visitors will discover that the slave population there was more than twice the population of “free white persons” — 15,161 to 6,816.

Mr. Somma said another consideration in planning the show was how to display items that he recognized could be disturbing. He plans to put a sign at the gallery entry warning parents that some items — images and words — may not be suitable for young children. And he placed items he considered troubling next to ones deemed positive.

“The more we know about the earlier parts of the story, the more we can know what role we have in the story,” he said. “This is an ongoing story. One of the beauties of this show is you notice how far we’ve come. At the same time, we’ve still got a ways to go.”

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