'Black People Deserve Better Than This'

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Famous first L. Douglas Wilder was supposed to be putting together a powerhouse slavery museum in Virginia. It looks like no such museum is in the offing:


"Governor Wilder disappeared," said Rev. Lawrence Davies, the former longtime mayor of Fredericksburg who was a member of the board. Davies stopped getting notices about board meetings, and when he tried to reach Wilder, he never heard back. 

"No one could ever get through to him,'' Davies said. "We didn't know what to think." It wasn't just board members and city officials who were left to wonder. There are donors, too, asking what happened. 

 "I trusted them," said Therbia Parker Sr., a general contractor from Suffolk, Va., who gave the museum nearly 100 artifacts he had collected over 40 years, including rare and invaluable pieces such as leg shackles, a handwritten bill of sale for slaves, and a collar with a plantation name and slave number on it. 

 "I'll never forget the first time I saw a newspaper with ads for runaway slaves," he said. "The reality of it: This really happened." 

He wanted future generations to feel that history as he had. But he doesn't know where the artifacts he donated are now. And he is furious that the museum, slated to open in 2004, was never built. 

"Black people deserve better than this," he said.

Indeed. Parker has yet to get any of those artifacts back. He doesn't even know where they are. The callousness here is breathtaking.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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