the grumpy genealogist

anti-slavery meeting posterThe National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has filed for bankruptcy. Paperwork says the organization has more than $3 million in debts. It will make little difference to visitors, however, since the museum doesn't actually exist.

Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, the first African American to be elected governor of the state, founded a nonprofit organization in 2001 to create the museum, and launched fundraising efforts that involved the likes of comedian Bill Cosby. 38 acres, valued at $7.6 million, was donated to the project in 2002. Deed restrictions say it can be used only for an African-American heritage museum or for "charitable, educational or public purposes and related uses." It was supposed to open in 2004 but never did. A small memorial sculpture garden was opened in 2007. Now some of the donors to the Slavery Museum are asking that their pieces be returned to them.

In July, Fredericksburg ordered Mr. Wilder to hand over more than $215,000 after the museum stopped paying taxes on the property more than a year ago. The city  treasurer, Jim Haney, said the city gave the museum 30 days to pay the bill under threat of selling the property. It was not met, Mr. Haney said, so the city listed the land, 38 acres along the Rappahannock River, for sale in August. The museum's filing is aimed at stopping this from happening.

The petition declares the approximately $3.2 million in debts to nine unsecured creditors. The two largest are more than $1 million each: The museum owes $1.6 million to Lexington Design and Fabrication of Arleta, Calif., and $1.5 million to Clark Construction of Bethesda, Md.

In April of 2010, a New York Court awarded Pei Partnership Architects $5.17 million in a lawsuit against the slavery museum. C.C. Pei, the company's principal and a son of famous architect I.M. Pei, had designed the museum, although construction has never begun.

The museum is also embroiled in a legal battle with Therbia and Marva Parker, who donated almost 100 historic artifacts with the understanding that they'd be put on display. Since that's obviously not going to happen, they want their artifacts back.



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"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." - George Bernard Shaw