Slave Block

A small bouquet of flowers adorns the slave auction block in Fredericksburg in 2018.

FREDERICKSBURG — Fredericksburg is looking to the future of its slave auction block now that the City Council has voted to have it moved.

City staff members have been directed to prepare a plan for its removal from the corner of William and Charles streets no later than July 9, and to have it moved by the end of the year. The Fredericksburg Area Museum has agreed to accept the auction block, and it has begun coordinating on logistics and is planning interpretation.

“We were already doing an exhibit on African American history,” said Sara Poore, the museum’s director. “In the back of my mind, it was always that we were going to end up with the block. Now that we know that’s happening, we know what role we will play and will work with the Memorials Advisory Commission to oversee gathering information and interpretation.”

The commission was tasked with telling a more complete story of the history of Fredericksburg and its African American community after City Council accepted the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience’s final report May 14. It will also recommend ways that story can be told. This work is expected to take several years.

The museum will participate in a comprehensive study of the auction block, which currently bears a plaque that simply identifies the stone block as “Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.” Local tradition identifies the stone as a slave auction block, and National Park Service historians have found a dozen documented instances of slave sales at that corner.

“There is no direct quote noting that a slave stood on the block to be sold, but there are statements made in the post-Civil War years by African Americans stating they were sold on that corner,” according to information on the city’s website, fredericksburgva.gov.

Fredericksburg began a community dialogue about the slave auction block after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. About 100 people gathered at the stone to pray for reconciliation and healing, and three people asked for its removal at a City Council meeting. There was also a change.org petition calling for its immediate removal, which received several thousand signatures.

The petition said in part: “Today, the auction block serves only to represent oppression and racism. We, as a modern society, have had enough of this stone symbol of bigotry; let us have it removed from our beautiful downtown neighborhood. Display it in a museum if you wish, but this vile monument does not belong on a public street corner as a constant reminder of the hatred that once filled this town, state, and nation which we call our home.”

The city conducted a survey and held a public forum about the auction block before initially voting to keep it in place. It also hired ICSC to conduct community-wide discussions about the auction block and how to tell a more complete history of the city. More than 250 people participated, but they never reached a consensus on whether to keep or move it, which aspects of its story to focus on or who should make those decisions.

The City Council then voted Tuesday to move it to the museum. City Manager Tim Baroody said Thursday that steps will be taken to ensure that this meets all federal, state and local rules and regulations. He added that the city still plans to extend the sidewalks at that intersection to create a traffic calming bump-out.

“That’s completely unrelated,” he said.

The museum issued a news release saying it would partner with the City Council and the Memorials Advisory Commission to seek community input for an exhibition on the area’s African American story. It plans to develop an ongoing series of programs to discuss race relations as it relates to both history and the present.

“Moving the auction block to FAM is not the conclusion of the story of racial injustices in our area, nor is it the end of public engagement,” the release said. “Subsequently, the removal of the auction block from its original location presents a unique opportunity for our community to unite and develop a comprehensive and non-traditional exhibition that can serve as an example for other communities in the commonwealth, the nation, and around the world.”

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