Learning about America's one-time addiction to slavery is like peeling back layers of a tough white onion.
For example, how many know that New Yorkers kept slaves through 1840; or that a fifth of New York City's population in 1776 was slave?
Outfitting slave ships was an engine of the city's prosperity, according to historian W.E.B. DuBois.
How many schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island are taught that the federal census of 1840 counted slaves in their states?
Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves, former governor of Virginia and now mayor of Richmond, hopes to cut right through the hard onion with a lot of help from his friends.
Wilder was in town last week to push the proposed U.S. National Slavery Museum. A $200 million effort, the museum will be located just off Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, Va.
It is being designed by the firm of architects that did the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art and the pyramid addition to the Louvre in Paris.
Early help is being given by Bill and Camille Cosby, musician Wynton Marsalis, actor Ben Vereen, Best Western, Hyatt Hotels, Toyota, Mitsubishi, McDonald's and "many, many others," Wilder said.
No shrinking violet, Wilder, in a speech at the National Press Club, called on a number of large corporations by name to join the parade of donors.
"And I'm calling for them now to get involved, not as a sense of reparation -- and I want to be as clear as I can be about that -- but as a sense of acknowledgment of doing what is right," Wilder said.
A full-size replica of the Portuguese slave ship, Dos Amigos, will be the centerpiece of the museum.
Wilder said historian John Hope Franklin urged him to put a slave ship in the place.
"Not just because it's a ship," Wilder said. "But it'll be a place to see the size of the seats that the people had, the hold that they had to go into, the deck that they had to come to for the shortest period of time, to empathize with how people could endure two to three months of this."
Americans have been served a lot of bogus history about slavery right through Reconstruction, right up to now.
Few if any schools teach that slavery was woven through the Constitution's fine print. The document not only mandated the continuation of slavery through 1808 and forbade any amendment from abolishing it until 1808, but also perpetually required the return of escaped slaves.
The Constitution had to be amended four times to give African-Americans their rights, the last one adopted in 1966.
Vereen, who came here with Wilder, said schoolkids are taught "once we had slavery, and then President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and then they were free."
Not quite. Wilder noted that Abraham Lincoln's proclamation exempted the Atlantic coast counties of Virginia and what is now West Virginia. With advice coming from Brown, Duke and Howard universities, the museum will have classrooms, and distribute instructional materials to schools that seek to get in step with the truth.
"We'll give the educational tools," Wilder said. "But we will provide no crutches for anyone to say this is an excuse for you not to excel, to be competitive, to do the best you can."
There is a museum about African-Americans being built on the National Mall. Wilder said the Fredericksburg facility will not compete for funds with the federal one. "There are plenty of art museums," he noted.
Besides, I think I prefer a private place run by African-Americans to one governed by the Smithsonian Institution and Congress, particularly this Congress. They are, after all, white establishments.