- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

Port for slavery

An enthusiastic Bill Cosby was one of several familiar faces from the black community who filled the Warner Theater on Saturday night for the U.S. National Slavery Museum’s premiere fundraising event.

The 100,000-plus-square-foot museum, when completed over the next two years on 39 acres of Rappahannock riverfront in Fredericksburg, Va., will become the nation’s first museum to tell the full story of American slavery.

Besides myriad exhibits, the privately run museum will support a full-scale replica of a slave ship, a library and archives, 450-seat theater and a commemorative wall and walkway to honor blacks who made significant contributions to this country but never received recognition.

Addressing the Warner crowd was former Virginia governor-turned-Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves who came up with the idea for a museum during a 1993 trip to Gabon, where he spoke to the second African/African AmericanSummit. He now chairs the museum’s board of directors.

Only through greater knowledge and understanding of the history of slavery, Mr. Wilder believes, can America “become free of its legacy.”

Party against slavery

Two significant anniversaries, normally observed two days apart this month, have been combined by the National Black Republican Association (NBRA), headquartered near the U.S. Capitol.

While celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Republican National Convention, held on June 17, 1856, the NBRA is encouraging state and county Republican Party organizations to also “publicize the facts that the Republican Party freed the slaves and that ‘Juneteenth’ — June 19th — is a celebration of this Republican Party victory.”

Juneteenth, celebrated in many black communities, signifies the date the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, got word that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The first Republican Party convention (mainly northern Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats) was held in Philadelphia, although their first Republican presidential nominee, John C. Fremont, an explorer, outdoorsman, and former senator from the new state of California, lost the election to “the pro-slavery Democrat,” James Buchanan, states the NBRA.

Historians say it was with this election that the Democrats got tagged a “Southern party,” remaining so through the next century.

But four years later, in 1860, Lincoln was elected as the first Republican Party president, taking office in 1861.

Go, Gonzaga

We ducked this past weekend into the Washington Jesuit Academy, a unique private school where tuition is provided free to boys from “at-risk” backgrounds, to hear Georgetown University men’s basketball coach John Thompson III deliver the academy’s second commencement address.

The school, which employs a highly structured academic program, was established by the area’s three educational institutions run by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests: Gonzaga College High School (from which Mr. Thompson graduated), Georgetown Prep and Georgetown.

Ninety-four percent of all the academy’s students are black, and 83 percent are non-Catholic. Almost 85 percent are raised in single-parent families, 28 percent have had no contact with their fathers for 10 or more years, and more than 10 percent have an incarcerated parent.

It is one of 56 such “nativity model” schools in the United States, which have an 87 percent success rate of sending graduates on to high school and college.

In his remarks, Mr. Thompson complimented the 19 graduates on their accomplishments, saying it “wasn’t always easy or fun, but when things became difficult, you didn’t pack it in.” Still, he warned that bigger challenges lie ahead.

“Four years from now, I want to see you guys graduating from high school. And four years after that, I want to see you graduating from college,” he said.

At one point, Mr. Thompson called out to two academy graduates who are enrolling this fall at Gonzaga. He left the lectern, walked across the stage, and pointedly shook hands with Saul Gonzalez and Kelvin Ventura. Returning to the microphone, the coach explained the personal recognition by saying, “Some high schools are just better than others.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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