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State OKs historic marker recognizing slave trade in Charlottesville

The commonwealth of Virginia will move forward with a plan to erect a marker on Charlottesville’s Court Square to recognize the slave trading that took place there for more than a century. Virginia’s Board of Historic Resources approved the topic at a week-ago meeting; the final hurdle is approval of the text.

“Great news,” Charlottesville’s preservation planner Jeffrey Werner told The Daily Progress. “I have to believe [the text] will be approved.”

The board’s Dec. 14 approval moves the project one step closer to fruition where it will become one of more than 2,500 historic markers in Virginia. The commonwealth, which unveiled its first historic marker in 1927, has the oldest such program in the nation.

“With their texts of black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape,” reads the program’s website, “Virginia’s state historical highway markers are hard to miss along the commonwealth’s roadways.”

The roadway this one would face is East Jefferson Street in the city-owned plot now known as Court Square Park. Formerly known as Jackson Park after the statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson which was erected in 1921 and removed in 2021, the park is a small enclave of grass and trees beside the Albemarle County Courthouse. The land is also the subject of a state-funded exploration of the McKee Block, once a racially integrated row of shops and houses that stood on the site until their demolition for the statue in 1918.

In its two sentences, the Court Square marker would take note of the human trafficking in the square that ended only with the Civil War.

“Enslaved men, women, and children were sold between 1762 and 1865 at various Court Square locations: outside taverns, at the Jefferson Hotel, at the ‘Number Nothing’ building, on a tree stump, and from the steps in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse — wherein records of such sales were filed and are still archived,” begins the proposed wording. “The largest auction in Court Square, at Eagle Tavern in January 1829, was that of 33 enslaved individuals from the Monticello estate of Thomas Jefferson. Enslaved Charlottesville residents Fountain Hughes and Maria Perkins recalled court day sales as dreaded occasions which resulted in the permanent separation of families.”

Werner indicated that the city’s Historic Resources Committee devised words that would be faithful to the historic sources while remaining within the confines of a metal highway sign.

But the staff of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources could still modify the message.

“The next step,” he said, “is for VDHR staff to review the citations, maybe request additional research, make any necessary edits, etc., etc.”

After an editorial committee considers the text, the Department of Historic Resources will bring a final proposal back to the board, according to Jennifer Loux, manager of the department’s highway marker program.

“Our objective will be to cover the most historically significant elements of the topic within the 700-character length limit,” Loux told The Daily Progress in an email. “Our goal is to present the final text to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources for official approval on March 21, 2024.”

People eager to read this history in its historic context may be in for a wait, however, as the foundry that casts the markers is experiencing a backlog, according to Loux.

“My estimate is that if the Court Square marker is approved in March, it will be ready for installation about 6-8 months later,” she wrote. “But that’s just an estimate.”


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