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City committee to recommend temporary slave auction marker

Charlottesville’s Historic Resources Committee plans to make a recommendation for a temporary marker that would again note the spot where enslaved people were bought and sold in Court Square.

During its meeting Friday, the committee said it plans to make a recommendation during the City Council’s meeting Tuesday.

Richard H. Allan III, 74, of Albemarle County, faces felony charges of grand larceny and possession of burglarious tools after one of two slave auction markers was taken earlier this month. The removed marker was set into the sidewalk and said, “Slave Auction Block” and underneath said, “On this site slaves were bought and sold.”

The mounting on another marker that was on the wall of a nearby structure was damaged and that plaque was taken down by the building’s tenants.

The plaques are located at a building erected as a mercantile store in the 1820s. A stone block outside the building was the site of slave auctions.

The marker has been criticized in recent years as being illegible and not visible enough.

The Court Square Markers subcommittee had been discussing plans to speak with descendants of people who were sold at the location about a new marker before there was “intervention by a private individual,” committee member Genevieve Keller said Friday.

“We have sort of a longer-term strategy that that’s what we were going to do,” she said. “I would be hesitant to do anything that’s even semi-permanent without engaging that community.”

On Friday, the committee reviewed a rendering for a temporary replacement. Rather than sitting in the ground, the proposed marker would be a small metal obelisk that stands about half as tall as an adjacent light pole near the site of the marker that was taken.

Committee member Jalane Schmidt said she doesn’t want to derail plans to work with descendants, but felt the committee should make a recommendation at the council’s upcoming meeting. She plans to work on a written proposal over the weekend to give the council guidance on next steps for developing it.

Councilor Heather Hill, who sits on the committee, mentioned a 2017 request for proposals for a master plan that was focused on telling “the full story of race” in the city’s downtown parks. She said the legwork for that proposal could be used for a new memorial to enslaved people.

“That infrastructure is already in place to act upon,” she said.

In June 2017, the city announced that it had issued a request for proposals for a firm to develop a new master plan for Market Street and Court Square parks.

The plan was included in the council’s February 2017 vote to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Market Street Park. It included plans for a memorial to the enslaved population for Court Square Park, which is home to a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The process was put on hold, however, after the city was sued for over the vote to remove the statue. The city lost that lawsuit in late 2019, but potential changes to state law could render the suit moot, allowing Charlottesville to remove the monuments and restart the park redesigns.

Hill said $1 million is set aside in the Capital Improvement Plan contingency fund and some of that money could possibly go toward a new or temporary marker. Any shifting of the funds would require City Council approval.

The Court Square Markers subcommittee plans to formally discuss possible language for a temporary marker at its meeting on Feb. 24.


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