Coun­cil asks for in­put on city’s slave auc­tion block

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - RTDWEATHER DESK - BY SCOTT SHENK

Fred­er­icks­burg lead­ers hear calls to move the stone

The thorny is­sue of race in Amer­ica erupted with deadly protests over the Robert E. Lee statue in Char­lottesville last month. Shortly af­ter that, de­bate arose over whether a slave auc­tion block should be moved from the street cor­ner where it sits in down­town Fred­er­icks­burg.

City of­fi­cials are seek­ing pub­lic in­put be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion on what to do about the block. On Wed­nes­day, of­fi­cials an­nounced that a link has been added to the city’s web­site to ac­cept com­ments.

The City Coun­cil plans to take up the is­sue at a meet­ing later this month.

The coun­cil said in a news re­lease that the op­tion to keep the block could in­clude build­ing a “more prom­i­nent pub­lic space” that might in­clude in­ter­pre­tive pan­els and a bet­ter de­sign for pedes­tri­ans.

If the de­ci­sion is to move the block, that op­tion could in­clude in­stalling a his­toric marker at the cor­ner that would in­clude di­rec­tions to the block’s new lo­ca­tion. The Fred­er­icks­burg Area Mu­seum could be the new home for the block.

The block’s cur­rent marker reads: “Fred­er­icks­burg’s prin­ci­pal auc­tion site in pre-Civil War days for slaves and prop­erty.”

On Aug. 20, dur­ing a vigil at the block on the cor­ner of Wil­liam and Charles streets, the Rev. Hash­mel Turner prayed that the coun­cil would re­move the stone block, call­ing it an “ob­sta­cle that brings re­mem­brance of so much heartache, so much suf­fer­ing and so much pain.”

Af­ter three peo­ple spoke at the coun­cil’s Aug. 22 meet­ing, ask­ing to have the auc­tion block moved to a mu­seum and re­placed with a sign, Coun­cil­man Chuck Frye sug­gested cre­at­ing a work­ing group. That group has pro­duced a plan to help de­cide what to do with the auc­tion block.

To get res­i­dents’ views, the work­ing group de­cided to cre­ate the “com­ment page” on the city’s web­site. On­line com­ments can be made at fred­er­icks­burgva.gov/ slaveauc­tion­block. The dead­line to make com­ments is noon on Sept. 25.

The next night, Sept. 26, the is­sue will be ad­dressed dur­ing the coun­cil meet­ing at Town Hall. The on­line pub­lic com­ments will be ad­dressed as part of the dis­cus­sion.

The coun­cil talked about the auc­tion block dur­ing a work ses­sion Tues­day.

“The con­ver­sa­tion should be broader than it cur­rently is,” said Coun­cil­man Matt Kelly, who added that the com­mu­nity’s re­li­gious lead­ers could pro­vide a strong voice. “We have a chance to do this the right way, no mat­ter where you stand.” Rally in Rich­mond Res­i­dents air con­cerns to po­lice chief.

THE FREE- LANCE STAR

“Fred­er­icks­burg’s prin­ci­pal auc­tion site in pre-Civil War days for slaves and prop­erty,” the marker says.

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