The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Museum donor wants his artifacts returned by Wilder
By Chelyen Davis
A man who donated nearly 100 artifacts to the U.S. National Slavery Museum says that even though a judge last week dismissed the museum’s bankruptcy case, he still doubts he’ll ever see his artifacts on display.
Therbia Parker Sr. just wants his items back, and says he no longer believes former governor Doug Wilder will be able to get the museum built.
“I want my artifacts back, because (Wilder) has deceived me along with other people and, in all reality, that museum will never ever be built,” Parker said.
“In the meantime, I would love to have those artifacts back in my possession. Those artifacts weren’t donated to me, I spent my money to buy them. My wife and I drove all across the country practically in search of artifacts.”
On Friday, a Richmond federal judge dismissed the museum’s bankruptcy case, after a request by museum attorney Sandra Robinson.
Robinson said an anonymous donor has promised to pay the museum’s tax debt to the city of Fredericksburg— the museum owes about $300,000—and that the museum has $100,000 in pledge donations.
She said the museum plans to work out a repayment deal with Pei Partnership Architects for the $5 million owed the architectural firm, and hopes to move forward and eventually build the museum.
Parker doubts that will ever happen, and thinks the judge shouldn’t have dismissed the case until the city had a tax check in hand.
Back around 2004, when former Gov. Doug Wilder had initiated the museum project and director Vonita Foster was gathering books, documents and artifacts for display there, Parker agreed to donate his collection.
It includes slave shackles, a first edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” 19th century slave documents and more.
Parker, who lives in Suffolk, spent years building the collection and estimates the portion that’s in the museum’s possession would be worth about $75,000.
But when the museum ceased operations around 2009, Parker’s artifacts disappeared—apparently into storage at Hilldrup Moving and Storage in Stafford. A few months ago, during the museum’s bankruptcy case, Hilldrup filed a claim for unpaid storage fees for artifacts and other items. It said that some of the museum’s items had been moved an L. Douglas Wilder Library. There is such a library at Virginia Union University in Richmond.
Wilder himself agreed to pay Hilldrup’s fees, said an attorney in a recent hearing in court.
When Parker donated the artifacts, he included a provision in the contract that says if the museum isn’t built, or ever closes, he would get his artifacts back.
He thinks that already happened when the museum lost its non-profit fundraising status with the IRS (the museum has since gotten that status reinstated), and that his artifacts should have been returned then.
But his attempts to reach Wilder over the years have been met with silence.
Parker remains concerned about his artifacts, which he just wants to see displayed and shared with others.
“My ultimate goal is to have those artifacts in a museum for public view,” Parker said. “They are a part of America’s history. A shameful part of America’s history, but it is a part of America’s history.”
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028