Activist unveils plan for slave ship museum in N.O.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In 2001, community activist and amateur historian Lloyd Lazard presented an idea of establishing a slave ship museum in New Orleans to the City Council.

Last week, Lazard appeared again before the council’s Economic Development and Special Projects Committee, this time with a 58-page proposal for the project drafted by architect Clifton James, a financial analysis and a chosen location.

Now, all he needs is $170 million to build it.

Council members Jackie Clarkson, James Gray and LaToya Cantrell expressed support for Lazard’s plan.

“I think the time is right and New Orleans is the only city in the country that can be home to this slave ship museum,” Cantrell said. “I think this is a great initiative and vision to have as we look towards 2018 and the tricentennial of the city.”

Lazard’s vision for the museum — possibly as part of the city’s riverfront redevelopment plan — includes a full-size interactive slave ship built inside a five-story building at the Celeste Street wharf. There also would be a replica slave ship that would sail to Natchez, Miss., and Scott’s Bluff in Baton Rouge.

Inside the museum, there would be a restaurant, a DNA lab to help people discover their roots, exhibits, meeting space and a garden. Outside there would be a riverfront park with an amphitheater as well as two replica African villages.

In his presentation, James said he would create ties to the local universities and use the museum to create educational opportunities for people of all ages.

Lazard also envisions a sister museum in Jackson, Miss., and has the support of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba who is expected to present a resolution to the Jackson City Council.

James estimated the New Orleans-based museum would attract more than 225,000 visitors per year with an annual economic impact of $100 million. The National World War II Museum attracts 400,000 people each year and a similar economic impact.

The annual operating costs are estimated to be $15 million, with $20 million in revenue, leaving $5 million for improvements, scholarships and other educational ventures.

James compared the slave ship museum, which would cost $170 million and take three years to build, to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati that cost $110 million with 60 percent of the cost raised through a national campaign.

Funding for the museum would come primarily from private, corporate and philanthropic sources with some public resources, James said.

Lazard said he first came up with the idea in 1996 and began lobbying officials at all levels of government. Five years later the U.S. Department of the Interior said the museum was a good match for the Lower Mississippi Delta Region Initiative, a program enacted to find ways to preserve the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of this region.

Lazard received a $25,000 grant in 2005 from the National Park Service for a preliminary feasibility study created by James and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans but Hurricane Katrina put the brakes on the project.

Now that he has a fully realized proposal Lazard and James hope to begin raising money and support for the project.

Norman Francis, president of Xavier University, spoke in support of the slave ship museum at the council meeting and said Lazard’s greatest assets in pushing this forward have been his patience and tenacity.

“There’s an old saying about an entrepreneur. It’s somebody who has an idea who doesn’t worry about where the resources are going to come from. He works on the idea,” Francis said. “The people who believe in (the museum) like Mr. Lazard will stay with it. It’s not going to be easy. Money is not easy to come by but the idea lives.”

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