The United States National Slavery Museum has been in the works for years, and until recently I’d totally forgotten about it. I knew it was the brainchild of L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia’s former governor. And I knew that the planners considered building it in Richmond or Jamestown before settling on Fredericksburg. Other than that, I didn’t hear anything about it for a long, long time.
The other day I was idly crusing around Wikimapia, checking out a few historically-significant spots. When I looked at Fredericksburg, I saw a huge parcel of land designated “Celebrate Virginia,” part of which was marked as the USNSM’s future home. I had no idea that the museum had been absorbed into some larger entity, and I’d never heard of Celebrate Virginia. I assumed it was some kind of statewide preservation initiative, until I looked at the official website.
It’s…well, it’s a little hard to explain what it is. It’s basically a shopping and entertainment development, but with a few twists. Head over to the site and click on “Attractions,” and you’ll see what I mean. You’ve got your Africa-themed water park, your golf course, your “Eco Adventure”—nothing like a massive land development to help you immerse yourself in some natural tranquility—and your slavery museum, for which the development company set aside a chunk of turf.
I’ve often found myself hurtling down a water slide while thinking, “If I could towel off, spend a few hours learning about man’s inhumanity to man, grab some Olive Garden, and then do a little shopping, this would be the perfect day.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we’ve got a developer who’s interested in a worthy cause. But the association of a major educational and research institution (especially one devoted to slavery) with a shopping-dining-entertainment complex is more than a little bizarre.
Anyway, it might be a moot point. From what I could find out by cruising around online, I don’t think the National Slavery Museum will open anytime soon. And after reading this news story, I can see why. Gov. Wilder’s approach to PR leaves a lot to be desired. When a reporter contacted him last year to find out how things were coming along, he replied, “If you want to help raise some money, then help. Other than that, quit worrying us.” I can hear those checkbooks being whipped out already.