Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder Seeks to Move Slavery Museum

BOB BROWN | Richmond Times-Dispatch Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder listens to a question from the media during a news conference at the State Capitol in Richmond, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Wilder said he is in "preliminary discussions" with the owners of the former First African Baptist Church to use the sanctuary as the future home of the slavery museum. It would be a scaled-down version of a slavery museum he first envisioned in Fredericksburg, but which collapsed under mounting debt and declining contributions.
BOB BROWN | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder listens to a question from the media during a news conference at the State Capitol in Richmond, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Wilder said he is in “preliminary discussions” with the owners of the former First African Baptist Church to use the sanctuary as the future home of the slavery museum. It would be a scaled-down version of a slavery museum he first envisioned in Fredericksburg, but which collapsed under mounting debt and declining contributions.

Former Gov. Doug Wilder wants to put his U.S. National Slavery Museum in a historic building in downtown Richmond and compete with the city for state dollars tied to a slavery heritage site that is part of a development plan proposed by Mayor Dwight Jones.

Wilder said Thursday that he wants to locate his museum, which failed to launch in Fredericksburg and passed through bankruptcy, at East Broad and College streets near 14th Street in the former First African Baptist Church, where his grandfather and father were trustees and deacons and he grew up as a member. The building is now part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical campus.

In an interview, Wilder said the slavery museum should not be tied to Jones’ larger economic development project, which includes a minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

“It needs to be done,” he said. “It should not depend for its success on the whims of the city.”

In a news conference at the state Capitol, Wilder acknowledged the problems faced by the failed project in Fredericksburg, but promised a much different plan in his native city.

“The vision that we had in Fredericksburg was grandiose,” he said, citing one proposal for a replica slave ship overlooking Interstate 95. “That won’t be here. This building is built.”

The former First African Baptist Church occupies a prominent place in downtown Richmond and in black history. The church was first established on the site between 1799 and 1802, but the original church was replaced by the current building in 1876.

Wilder’s father, Robert Wilder, was a deacon and trustee who signed the deed of trust that transferred the property to the Medical College of Virginia in 1955, when the church moved to North Richmond. His grandfather, James Henry Wilder, was a freed slave who also served as a deacon and trustee of the church.

The former governor, who is also a former mayor of Richmond, said he is in “preliminary discussions” about the plan with Virginia Commonwealth University, which owns the building as part of its medical campus; however, the news took VCU officials by surprise.

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Source: The Roanoke Times | Michael Martz and Graham Moomaw

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