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City Council backs temporary slave auction marker

Charlottesville will install a temporary marker to replace the stolen plaque that marked the site of the Court Square slave auction block.

At its meeting Tuesday, City Council gave the go-ahead to the Historic Resources Committee to move forward with the temporary marker.

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; 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.

Rather than sitting in the ground, the proposed marker would be a small metal obelisk standing a few feet tall.

“I like the fact that you can’t step on the marker,” Councilor Sena Magill said.

The temporary marker will read: “For enslaved persons, slave auctions were traumatic events that severed family and community bonds. This site, Number Nothing, was the former location of H. Benson & Bros. auction house, one of several places in Court Square where enslaved African Americans were sold. This slave auction block’s proximity to the courthouse enabled buyers and sellers of humans — regarded as property by white traffickers — to efficiently file legal papers after these transactions. This temporary installation marks the sale of people in this area while the City of Charlottesville develops a more appropriate and permanent memorialization in consultation with descendants of enslaved people sold here.”

Councilor Heather Hill mentioned that the permanent marker could factor into a future revamp of downtown parks.

She referred to the 2017 request for proposals for a master plan that was focused on telling “the full story of race” in the city’s downtown parks.

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.


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