Former governor fails to return slavery artifacts

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder has given a Suffolk man the runaround for years about costly donations made to a museum he failed to open. 10 On Your Side confronted him once, and we’re bringing the issue up again as Wilder is announcing his involvement with a new museum.

Ten years ago, Suffolk resident Therbia Parker gave Wilder $75,000 worth of artifacts for his U.S. National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg. But in 2011, the museum when into bankruptcy. It will never be built. And Parker was never given back his artifacts.

Photos: Missing slavery artifacts

“He was a failure with the museum, and it was a failure for Doug Wilder,” Parker said.

Parker’s words cut deep. And less than two weeks ago, when 10 On Your Side confronted Wilder for a second time about why he refuses to return the artifacts, he was rattled, repeatedly saying, “I have dealt with that. I have dealt with that. I have dealt with that.”doug wilder 2

The confrontation happened at a news conference on May 8 when Wilder announced his support for a new slavery museum in Downtown Richmond. While it is clear he will be involved with the Richmond venture, Wilder still has unfinished business with his failed Fredericksburg venture – he has not dealt properly with Parker.

“It’s been ten years. I have been in his office and on his phone, and each time he has lied to me,” Parker told WAVY.com.

Wilder keeps claiming he will return the valuables, but he never does.

“I have even sent Doug Wilder registered letters, and I got back receipts someone signed for,” Parker said.

Parker believed in Wilder’s dream to build the museum in Fredericksburg and gave the artifacts to show support for the effort. But there was a clear understanding in the donation’s contract that if the museum, “ceases to exist or fails to become a reality … the property shall be returned to the donors.”

So in November 2011, 10 On Your Side went with Parker to Wilder’s office and confronted the former Governor. We found him walking down the hall in front of his office. He mumbled, “I won’t be talking to [Parker],” and then closed his office door.

Wilder did eventually meet with Parker behind closed doors. Parker said during the meeting Wilder was upset: “He didn’t want to talk with [WAVY News 10] and he assured me I would get back my artifacts. He promised I would get them back.”

Doug WilderAlmost three years later, Paker’s still waiting for the artifacts. So at the May 8 news conference 10 On Your Side confronted Wilder again, asking him directly — “Will you hand over the artifacts?”

Wilder turned his head and said, “I will speak with Mr. [Parker] whenever he chooses … I told you, I talked with Mr. Parker in front of you, and also behind closed doors, and you may say to Mr. Parker anytime he wants to contact me he can.”

So, again Parker reached out to Wilder. WAVY.com called Wilder from Parker’s phone. Wilder’s voice was on the recording: “I’m not in right now. Give me a call later. Thank you.” Again, Parker left a message: “This is Therbia Parker. I would like my artifacts returned to me, according to the conditions of the contract.” Parker also emailed Wilder, but received no reply from the former Governor.

Parker now thinks the artifacts may be lost, or may be sold, but Wilder told 10 On Your Side they are in storage at a controlled storage facility in Northern Virginia and at Virginia Union University, where Wilder went to school.

The former governor also tried to give WAVY.com the impression that he and Parker were on good terms, that Parker doesn’t want the issue “stirred up.”

“I have had my conversation with the gentleman, and there are others who would like to stir it up. It is not he,” Wilder said.

But Parker says differently: “Make a hell fire out of it. Stir it up! You can quote me on that.”

After empty promises in 2011 and empty promises today, Parker wants nothing more than to confront the once trail-blazing politician and get back what is his. The only reason he doesn’t involve a lawyer is because he can’t afford to do so.

“Does he want this to be a part of his legacy? I am very disappointed in Governor Wilder as a man, a former Governor, as a person of integrity,” Parker said.

10 On Your Side will continue fighting for Parker and will keep you updated on our progress.

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