- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

RICHMOND — If every American contributes $8, the U.S. National Slavery Museum could open exhibits as early as next year, Bill Cosby, a key contributor to the project, said yesterday.

Mr. Cosby joined Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder in initiating a new campaign to raise $100 million toward the Fredericksburg museum’s $200 million cost by asking people to give up what Mr. Cosby termed “the price of two shots of Scotch.”

Mr. Cosby also encouraged parents to donate on their children’s behalf.

“The incentive is that they would join in with the rest of the United States of America in saying yes, as an American, I gave $8 to help build something that tells the story,” he said in a teleconference with Mr. Wilder. “This is needed. Period.”

Mr. Cosby already has committed to donating at least $1 million to the museum.

Mr. Cosby said that he came up with the $8 idea while brainstorming on what the average American could afford to give.

Mr. Wilder said that the number also has symbolic significance to what is touted as the first national museum dedicated solely to telling the story of American slavery.

“The figure 8, in shape, is both of the shackles, which is the symbol of slavery,” said Mr. Wilder, a former Virginia governor and the grandson of slaves. “If you turn it on its side, it’s the symbol of infinite freedom.”

The campaign marks the latest attempt at fundraising for a project in the works for more than a decade.

Mr. Wilder struggled to find a location before settling on a site near the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va., a region where many Civil War battles were fought.

Some exhibits were supposed to open in 2003. Later, the date was pushed to next year.

“In terms of whether the museum will be open next year, no, it won’t,” Mr. Wilder said. “Will some parts of it be open next year? It might be.”

The primary problem has been raising funds, organizers acknowledge.

Fundraising seemed to get a jolt in February, when organizers had to reschedule a gala after high ticket sales forced them to look for a larger venue.

But Mr. Cosby said that organizers continue to wrestle with limited corporate participation. He blamed the stigma of slavery.

“Corporate America is having a terrible problem coming up and divvying up with the money,” he said, speaking from his home in Massachusetts. “They’re more worried about whose feelings they would hurt if this museum is built.”

Mr. Wilder said that the museum has about $50 million on hand. Now Mr. Cosby said that it’s time to target “foot soldiers.”

“This kind of campaign generally fails badly,” he said. “But I’m going to try again because I’m going to present this national slavery museum as a jewel that’s missing in a crown.”

The museum will feature such relics as rusty manacles and iron masks used to restrain Africans, as well as a full-sized replica of a slave ship.

It’s expected to draw more than 2 million tourists a year.

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