Society

Slave Auction Block Sparks Controversy In Virginia Town

| by Robert Fowler
A slave block memorial in Fredericksburg, VirginiaA slave block memorial in Fredericksburg, Virginia

City officials in Fredericksburg, Virginia, are deciding whether to remove a historical slave auction block from a street corner. The fixture has been controversial for nearly a century, but calls for its removal were renewed following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Fredericksburg features a small stone block where at least 12 African-American slaves were auctioned off before the Civil War. Featured in tourism guides, the fixture is emblazoned with a plaque that reads, "Fredericksburg's Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property."

The slave auction block has survived decades of controversy, with repeated calls for its removal. City officials had considered uprooting the fixture as early as 1924, although their pretense at the time was that they disputed the fact it was used to auction slaves, according to The Guardian.

The historical landmark has faced renewed scrutiny following a white supremacist rally that had thrust another Virginia city into the national spotlight.

On Aug. 11-12, white nationalists gathered at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and staged a so-called "Unite the Right" rally. The white supremacist demonstration culminated in violence when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly plowed his car through a crowd of counter protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, The Washington Post reports.

On Aug. 20, more than 150 people gathered for a prayer vigil around the slave auction block in Fredericksburg, with attendees calling for the fixture to be removed.

"I've had painful reflections of it in times past ... That is my desire to have it gone," said Rev. Hashmel Turner, according to WRC-TV. "I don't need a reminder. And I wouldn't think those who enslaved our people would want a constant reminder of what they did to us."

On Aug. 22, Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and City Councilman Chuck Frye Jr. met with city officials to discuss the potential of transferring the slave block to a museum. They are slated to revisit the issue before Sept. 26, according to The Free Lance-Star.

Several Fredericksburg officials and residents are against removing the slave block, asserting that it serves as a necessary reminder of the town's racial history. Greenlaw shared this view.

"In this discussion, we are talking about what is the history," Greenlaw said, asserting that the fixture was not the same as a Confederate monument, The Guardian reports. "We are not talking about a memorial or something that is after the fact or a glorification."

City councilman Matt Kelly believes that the "point that a lot of people make when they look at [the block] is that it makes them feel uncomfortable -- frankly, that is not necessarily a bad thing."

Sources: The Free Lance-StarThe Guardian, WRC-TV, The Washington Post / Featured Image: PxHere / Embedded Images: Sarah Stierch/Flickr (2)

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