U.S. National Slavery Museum loses its tax-exempt status

February 22, 2012

The national slavery museum former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder hopes to create can no longer receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

On Wednesday, the IRS added the U.S. National Slavery Museum to the list of organizations that have had their federal tax-exempt status revoked.

It’s another setback for a long-running effort that has had high-profile support over the years.

For nearly two decades, Wilder has talked about the need for a place dedicated to teaching future generations about slavery. An architect had designed a building with a dramatic glass atrium and a replica of a slave ship, to be built on donated land along Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg. But the museum has not been built, as fundraising and other troubles slowed progress. In the fall, the museum filed for bankruptcy. Creditors have pressed for bills amounting to millions of dollars to be paid, and some donors have asked for rare artifacts, such as leg shackles and slave bills of sale, to be returned.

Wilder did not return mes­sages seeking comment Wednesday.


Wilder, flashes victory signs during a victory party after being elected Richmond mayor in 2004. The national slavery museum former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder hopes to create can no longer receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. (STEVE HELBER/The Associated Press)

Nonprofit groups are required to file a return or notice to the IRS every year; failure to file for three consecutive years prompts a revocation of tax-exempt status. The museum’s last federal returns were in 2007.

Organizations may apply to regain tax-exempt status, according to the IRS.

Last year, Wilder released a public statement pledging to build the museum and to build it in Fredericksburg. And in court documents, the museum is looking ahead.

An attorney for the museum recently filed a proposed reorganization plan to be considered by creditors and a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge. The plan anticipates restarting fundraising, bringing in an estimated $900,000 in a year — and more in future years — with the goal of sharing its collection with the public. It would repay its secured creditors, Pei Partnerships Architects and the city of Fredericksburg, within four years, according to the filing.

A lawyer for the museum did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Jeffrey Scharf, the lawyer representing the city, said he had not yet carefully read through the proposed plan and was unaware that the organization had lost its federal tax-exempt status.

“It just makes another hurdle for them to reorganize and do what they say they're going to do,” he said.

Susan Svrluga is a Virginia rover for the Washington Post, covering anything and everything that’s happening in the Commonwealth.
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