Bill Cosby, who more than two years ago urged African-Americans to take more responsibility for their neighborhoods and children, says Blacks should be similarly responsible for building the national slavery museum in Fredericksburg, Va.
The 69-year-old comedian is encouraging every American to donate $8 to the construction of the slavery museum, which is estimated to cost $200 million. He says Black Americans should lead that effort.
“The incentive is that they [Blacks] would join in with the rest of the United States of America in saying ‘Yes, as an American, I gave $8 to help build something that tells the story,’” says Cosby, who has donated $1 million to build the museum along the Rappahannock River on a former Civil War battlefield.
Throughout the summer, museum organizers say that they collected more than $50 million in cash and pledges for the project, which has been underway for the last decade.
Cosby recently joined L. Douglas Wilder, the mayor of Richmond, Va., to kick off the campaign, which is looking to secure an additional $50 million in donations.
Museum officials say they hope to open a portion of the museum next year to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown. The colony would eventually become the destination place for the arrival of thousands of African slaves.
Wilder, the former governor of Virginia and the grandson of slaves, says that $8 has symbolic significance in a campaign to create what has been billed as the first national museum dedicated solely to telling the story of American slavery.
“The figure 8, in shape, is both of the shackles, which is the symbol of slavery,” says Wilder, who conceived of the museum idea while visiting Goree Island, the slave post in West Africa where many slaves were shipped. “If you turn it on its side, it’s the symbol of infinite freedom,” he adds.
Wilder says he hopes the museum, once built, will become a destination spot for students. There are smaller slavery museums in cities across the nation, but most struggle each year for funding just to stay open.
During a 2004 speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Cosby angered many by chastising African-Americans for not taking enough responsibility in solving the problems they face.
For the past two years, he has been moving nearly non-stop, barnstorming cities across the country and holding town hall meetings aimed at getting African-Americans — particularly those in urban areas — to deal with the crisis of failing schools, crime and AIDS in poor Black neighborhoods.
Though he has said that it is not likely that 300 million Americans would donate $8 for the museum, he felt that it was essential for him to try to raise the funds.
“These kinds of things generally fail badly,” Cosby said during a press conference. “But I’m going to try again because I’m going to present this national slavery museum as a jewel that’s missing in a crown.”
— By Jamal Watson
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