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The National Slavery Museum: Shackled again

DOUGLAS WILDER is the grandson of slaves—a fact that magnified the symbolism of his victory in 1989 as America’s first elected black governor. In his final year of office in 1993, he vowed to erect a National Slavery Museum in memory of the chains whose shadow he shares with tens of millions of black Americans.Eighteen years on, the museum—planned for a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, a tidy redbrick town midway between Washington, DC, and Richmond, Virginia’s capital—is nothing more than an architectural rendering. The chances of its ever being built have now been further diminished by the embarrassment of bankruptcy.Mr Wilder is asking the bankruptcy court in Richmond to allow his museum to reorganise and resume operations after sorting out its debts, much as General Motors was allowed to do. The museum is groaning under $3.2m in debt. It owes Fredericksburg $215,000 in taxes and has been hit with a $5.2m bill from the museum’s architect, C.C. Pei.To Mr Wilder’s detractors, the bankruptcy is only one more sign that he is not always careful with other people’s money. During his governorship, he closed a $2 billion hole in Virginia’s budget by cutting spending and rejecting demands by fellow Democrats that he raise taxes. But later, as Richmond’s first directly elected mayor for nearly 60 years, he cost taxpayers $1m in legal and moving fees…

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