- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

RICHMOND — Tobacco giant Philip Morris USA will give $200,000 toward establishing the United States National Slavery Museum, planned for Fredericksburg,museum officials announced last week.

The cash will be used to hire additional staff and develop marketing and fundraising efforts for the $200 million museum along the Rappahannock River, expected to open sometime next year.

The gift is the result of ongoing cooperation between the tobacco company and leaders of the museum, which will document the history of blacks enslaved and often made to farm, among other things, tobacco.

“I really believe they understand the importance of this historic initiative and they understand our mission, which is to present a more complete rendering of the complex topic of slavery,” said museum director Vonita Foster.

It follows assertions by museum founders that large corporations have shied from giving to a project linked with slavery. Recent years have seen several corporations forced to take a look at their company’s historical links to the sale and enslavement of blacks.

Mrs. Foster pointed out Philip Morris’ present-day American arm was established in 1902, well after slavery was abolished.

“We are proud to support the museum’s efforts to establish itself as a national destination for learning and reconciliation,” said Tina Walls, senior vice president of external affairs with the Richmond-based tobacco company. “The U.S. National Slavery Museum will be an important educational asset to both the commonwealth of Virginia and the nation.”

The museum has been many years in the making.

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first black elected governor, initially proposed the museum while on a trip to Africa in 1993.

More than a decade and several proposed sites later, the museum still hasn’t opened, despite Mr. Wilder’s efforts to raise $100 million in funding toward its construction. Now mayor of Richmond, Mr. Wilder has paired with various celebrities, including comedian Bill Cosby, to raise money for the museum.

One recent effort included calling on Americans to donate $8 each toward the museum Mr. Cosby described as “a jewel that’s missing in a crown” of American historical resources.

Mrs. Foster said the museum has so far raised nearly $50 million in cash and in-kind donations. She expects the first phase of the museum, a 100-square-foot learning center, to open in 2008.

“We’re not sure if it will be the middle, the beginning or the end,” she said.

When complete, the 290,000-square-foot museum to be built on a 38-acre site in Fredericksburg will include more than 5,000 historic relics of slavery, galleries and a full-scale replica of a Portuguese slave ship.

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