- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

RICHMOND — Organizers of the United States National Slavery Museum must raise $10 million by summer’s end or risk missing their late 2008 goal for opening the slave history repository, already more than a decade in the works.

“They can complete phase one and be ready for us to open in 2008 if we can do something between now and the fall,” museum Director Vonita Foster told the Associated Press this month. “We hope that money will come in through some generous investor.”

The cash would go toward constructing a visitor center and gardens, the first phase of the Fredericksburg museum slated to contain more than 5,000 slavery relics.

For now, the 38-acre site along the banks of the Rappahannock River sits empty.

“The biggest thing you’ve got to do is to have something visible,” said Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. “People have got to see something.”

Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, thought up the museum during a trip to Africa in 1993. He’s since rounded up support among such black celebrities as entertainers Bill Cosby and Ben Vereen.

Still, fundraising has faltered.

Mr. Wilder has blamed difficulty among Americans with acknowledging the tragedy of slavery. Neither he nor his supporters have come forward to fund the museum, saying they want the site to be financed by everyday Americans.

But Mr. Wilder, a grandson of slaves, acknowledged times are tough for many museums.

“Look at the problems they’re having locating the Museum of the Confederacy. Where’s the money coming from?” he said, pointing to the museum in the former Confederate capital, which has considered moving as attendance shrinks and Virginia Commonwealth University expands around it. “It’s not unique to this museum.”

The museum has $50 million in cash and in-kind donations on hand, an amount that hasn’t budged much in the past few months despite a series of fundraising efforts.

Those have included a campaign urging each American to donate $8 — symbolic of the manacles used to shackle slaves — and another campaign letting supporters create a Web-based video with Mr. Cosby.

Miss Foster didn’t say how much either campaign has raised.

“It’s not bringing in the dollars that we need,” she said. “We need corporate support and we need support from people that have millions and millions of dollars.”

A full-scale replica of a Portuguese slave ship will anchor the complete museum, which will include galleries as well as artifacts.

“We’ll build the museum,” Mr. Wilder said. “The question is how long will it take.”

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