Oct 15, 2001

An unseemly mix of links and chains


 Slavery is nothing to celebrate.
 That's just one beef I have with the Fredericksburg site picked for the
proposed national slavery museum.
 The museum's board voted 2-1 to back a consultant's recommendation to
place former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's project at the site of Celebrate
Virginia, a 2,100-acre golf, tourism and commercial venture planned
along the Rappahannock River.
 Exactly how do you market this?
 I can't see visitors to Celebrate Virginia's golf course pining to set
aside their clubs and amble over to the museum. Nothing takes the luster
off a hole-in-one like a tour of the dank hold of a slave ship.
Then again, maybe this marriage of links and chains makes perfect sense.
Golf's most prestigious event, the Masters, is played at a
plantation-turned-country club that retained an all-white membership
until 1990.
Imagine the possibilities. We could have slave re-enactors caddying for
If this scenario doesn't have you shouting "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah!" maybe
it's because it brings to mind Walt Disney Co.'s ill-fated theme park in
Northern Virginia, which was shelved amid concerns that its depiction of
history, particularly slavery, would lack the proper gravity and
 But where the slave museum project is concerned, gravity and dignity
went out the window about the time the site's natural location,
Jamestown, was abandoned.
That launched an unseemly bidding war that had the effect of further
degrading our ancestors.
As usual, Richmond City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin did not mince words.
"I'm disappointed that Governor Wilder allowed himself to be bought by
this rich white man who is simply going to exploit our history and
heritage for his personal gain," El-Amin said.
 "He will display [the museum] in a Disney Land-type atmosphere. . . .
We got sold on the auction block to the highest bidder once again."
 Wilder and Hampton University President William R. Harvey voted for the
Fredericksburg site. Ruby Martin of Richmond, who was secretary of
administration under Wilder, dissented.
 Martin noted that the same consultant who recommended the
Fredericksburg site had gushed in January about the Richmond location.
And she argued that Richmond "has a decisive edge over Fredericksburg
both in its historical connections to slavery and the potential for
national, state, local and community support."
 Regardless of its location, the success of a slavery museum is no sure
thing. A substantial number of Americans, black and white, are loath to
revisit the issue, which remains a source of anger, denial, guilt and
 The solemn reflection demanded of a visit to the slavery museum seems
at odds with the neon of hotels, the commerce of an office park and the
breezy aspirations of a golf enthusiast.
Wilder and Celebrate Virginia's developer say the museum site would be a
separate entity buffered and carved from the commercial venture.
 Unfortunately, no amount of screening can hide the fact that Celebrate
Virginia and a museum to slavery are incompatible in mission, tone and
 Plopping this museum in the middle of a playland trivializes and
commercializes slavery and demeans the people the museum seeks to
memorialize. Haven't they been through enough?