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Slavery Museum: Dismay

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Credit: EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH

In February, the "Spirit of Freedom" sculpture garden at the Fredericksburg site of the U.S. National Slavery Museum Garden sat unkempt and overgrown.


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The Wednesday headline reported, "Slavery museum finances faulted." The news did not surprise; still, it dismayed.

Former Gov. Douglas Wilder had an excellent idea when he proposed a museum to tell a story that many Americans did not want told. Although slavery played as important a role in the American experiment as the Founding itself, until recently the peculiar institution and its aftermath have not received sufficient attention.

Slavery challenges American exceptionalism. We and many others have described the Constitution as the world's preeminent governmental document. It well may be. But less than a century after ratification, the nation threw itself into a Civil War regarding an issue the Founders left unaddressed. Americans need to know this. They need to hear the stories of those who did not come to a nation of immigrants voluntarily. And they need to be reminded of what was overcome — and how and why.

Wilder's museum had the potential to right wrongs. Almost from the start it suffered from distractions. Location became an issue. Central Virginia may have missed an opportunity vigorously to promote itself as a preferred site.

A Virginia-based slavery museum as originally conceived will not come to be. Other institutions will fill the void.

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