An Albemarle County man charged with removing a plaque that marks the spot where enslaved people were bought and sold in Charlottesville pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Thursday.
Richard H. Allan III, 75, was arrested in February and charged with two felonies: grand larceny and possession of burglarious tools.
Clad in a face mask and standing in an almost entirely empty Charlottesville General District courtroom Thursday, Allan accepted a plea agreement from the commonwealth.
Per the agreement, Allan pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor destruction of property. The burglarious tools charge was dropped. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, all suspended, and 25 hours of community service.
Part of the reason for the lesser charge was that Allan assisted in locating and returning the plaque, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said during the hearing.
Following the brief hearing, Allan expanded upon his reason for removing the plaque.
“I did not remove the plaque for any reason other than that I thought it was offensive to a significant section of the community, which I have been told in no uncertain terms by community leaders,” Allan said.
Allan, who said he has spent 25 years as an iconologist — someone who studies and interprets cultural history through art and iconography — said he believes the placement of the plaque is offensive and a step down from the grey wall marker that was placed in the same area during the city’s 1962 bicentennial.
About 40 years later, the wall marker was removed, Allan said, prompting community members to begin asking about where it had gone in 2003. It was replaced some time in 2014 with the one in the ground that Allan later removed.
“When [the first marker] disappeared, the city put a much smaller metal plaque around the corner from where the slave block was in the ground,” he said. “As civil rights leader Eugene Williams pointed out to me, when you walk along the street, where are your eyes?”
In a 2014 letter to The Daily Progress, Williams wrote that the replacement plaque was inadequate and questioned whether any African Americans or the University of Virginia history department were consulted.
“Slates on other buildings on Court Square can be read from a distance — but the replacement plaque, because it is nearly the same color as the surrounding brick, is almost invisible unless a person is already close to the building,” Williams wrote. “As for the marker in the sidewalk, I doubt that people walking past even notice it.”
“Are any other historic markers in the city relegated to the sidewalk?”
Allan began complaining to the city about the marker in November, before deciding to take the matter into his own hands “as a personal matter of repair,” as he told The Progress in February.
The marker was briefly missing after Allan pried it out of the ground.
Then, a new black marker that read in white letters, “HUMAN AUCTION SITE: In 1619 the first African kidnap victims arrived in VA. Buying and selling of humans ended in 1865. For 246 years this barbaric trade took place on sites like this” was briefly placed by Richard Parks in the empty space in February.
The original marker was recovered after Allan’s arrest, but has not been returned to its space in the sidewalk. The city bricked in the empty space.
The city’s Historic Resources Committee had been discussing ways to improve the memorials, and the Court Square markers subcommittee discussed a temporary replacement in February.
However, the committee is not among the city boards meeting digitally amid the coronavirus pandemic and so conversations have halted for the time being.