A controversial slave auction block at the corner of William and Charles streets in downtown Fredericksburg has haunted many of the areas black residents for years.
The knee-high stone has been stepped on, spit on, had cigarettes put out on it, and even had people stand on it for photographs, which the Fredericksburg Branch #7069 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People finds disrespectful of black history. That’s why it is urging city officials to find a new location for the block.
“It is a relic of a time gone by—a time of hatred and degradation—on the main thoroughfare of our city,” according to a statement about the auction block that the organization released recently. “Our beloved City should not allow such behaviour to continue.”
The statement said this artefact from a painful past needs to be protected and used to educate people “to prevent this evil from rearing its ugly head in our democracy again.” It wants the block removed from the street corner and a historical panel erected in its place.
The local NAACP’s opinion, which will appear in full in Sunday’s editorial section, is one of many that Fredericksburg’s City Council wants to hear as it decides the future of what a plaque describes as “Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.”
Council members have been seeking public input on what should be done about the block since the issue arose after the deadly protests over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville in August.
A recent candlelight vigil downtown included a prayer that council members would remove the auction block.
Three people also requested that the removal is considered during the public comment section of City Council’s Aug. 22 meeting.
A link was added to the city’s website, fredericksburgva.gov/slaveauctionblock, to accept comments, and the council will hold a special session to offer a brief history of the auction block and to hear public comments on two options for the block from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday at James Monroe High School, 2300 Washington Ave.
The options are:
Keep the slave auction block in its current location, but use the existing right of way to build a more prominent public space that serves as a buffer and places the artefact in context. This option envisions interpretive panels, protective measures and a better design for pedestrian flow.
Replace the auction block with a historical marker and directions to its new location, likely in the Fredericksburg Area Museum. FAM is preparing a permanent exhibit that tells the story of the lives of the working people of Fredericksburg.
Anyone wishing to speak should sign up before the start of Saturday’s meeting. This can be done through the city website; by emailing the Clerk of Council at email@example.com; or in person at her office, which is on the second floor of City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St. Name and address, including ZIP code, are required. Lacey will receive speaker sign-ups until 4:30 p.m. this Friday.
“It is important to recognize that the City Council decision-making process, specific to the future of the slave auction block, takes place within the larger context of a community dialogue about race, history, and memory,” stated a city news release.
Thirteen people had signed up as of Thursday. Speakers will be called in the order they signed up, and have three minutes to address the council. David Sam, former president of Germanna Community College, will facilitate.
The deadline to make comments at fredericksburgva.gov/slaveauctionblock is noon on Monday. The link also includes background information on the auction block.
City Council will discuss the auction block issue when it holds its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall. Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said that she doesn’t think council members will be ready to vote on either option at that time.
Source: The Free Lance Star|| By CATHY JETT