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Mayor Salutes VCU Prof, Pitches Slavery Museum

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder may have hinted last week that the planned National Slavery Museum should be relocated in Richmond.

Wilder was one of about 50 people who attended a gathering Sept. 5 at Virginia Commonwalth University to honor Herb Hirsch, a longtime political science professor at VCU who recently was named editor of a publication devoted to human rights issues.

Two guests who attended say Wilder voiced his views on topics ranging from his disgust with this season's "Survivor" premise, which separates competing teams according to ethnicity, to the fact that still there is no national museum devoted to slavery.

Wilder first proposed the $200 million museum, now in the works for Fredericksburg, 14 years ago after a trip to Africa. He originally conceived that the museum would be located here, but City Council refused to give him start-up money or incentives, such as real estate, to land the project.

Fredericksburg, it seemed, was a better canvas. Wilder got 38 acres of land privately donated for the project along the Rappahannock River, just 50 minutes from the nation's capital. Plans for the 290,000-square-foot museum boast a $200 million budget and an opening date in 2008. But with less than a year and a half to go, only $50 million has been pledged to build it; another $50 million must be raised for construction to begin.

Recent conjecture — unequivocal rumor — has spread that Wilder would like to explore again the option of building a national slavery museum in Richmond, specifically in Shockoe Bottom. The city owns about 11 acres of it; the Lovings family, which owns Lovings Produce, owns most of the rest.

In previous interviews, Wilder has maintained there were no plans to uproot the museum and move it to Richmond.

Wilder's prepared remarks at the VCU event — which Style was unable to obtain — suggested that Richmond would be prime for such a museum, says Charlie Diradour, a local real-estate developer who attended the gathering for Hirsch. But Wilder did not come out and argue for it, he says.

Still, Diradour acknowledges the mayor's "salient points" that Richmond would be a good place to start the dialogue on the country's lack of progress in the arena of human rights. "It was thick," Diradour says of Wilder's insinuation.

Wilder didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.

Not everyone at the ceremony for Hirsch picked up on Wilder's remarks. But Jay Ipson, director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, is quick to embrace Hirsch's work and quick to offer his opinion on the slavery museum. "My belief is, it belongs in Richmond," Ipson says. "It's where it all started." S

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