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Anti-Smoking Group Demands Slavery Museum Return Tobacco Company Donation

An anti-smoking group called on the U.S. National Slavery Museum to return a donation from tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, saying the company targets children "for another form of slavery."

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, sent a letter to the museum's executive director, Vonita Foster, last week. Myers said the association with the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer would counter the museum's goal of educating children.

"This is indeed a laudable goal, but by taking receipt of this donation, the museum is joining forces with a company that continues to target children for another form of slavery," Myers wrote.

The museum, which is in the midst of a $165 million capital campaign, does not plan to return the $200,000 donation, spokesman Matt Langan said.

Museum officials have called on industries like tobacco that originally benefited from slavery for support. Langan dismissed Myers' claim that accepting Philip Morris' "tainted money" could discourage other companies from donating.

"We're happy that Philip Morris was progressive enough and stepped up to the plate and donated," Langan said. "We hope other corporations will follow suit."

The museum has raised nearly $50 million in cash and in-kind donations. The first phase of the museum, a 100-square-foot learning center, is expected to open in 2008.

When complete, the 290,000-square-foot museum to be built on a 38-acre site in Fredericksburg will include over 5,000 historic relics of slavery, galleries and a full-scale replica of a Portuguese slave ship.