Fredericksburg’s controversial slave auction block—a source of pain for some and shame for others—will be removed.
City Council voted 6–1 Tuesday to have it relocated from the corner of William and Charles streets to the nearby Fredericksburg Area Museum.
The sole no vote was cast by Matt Kelly, who had wanted his fellow council members to wait a few weeks until the vote on the block’s fate could be better publicized.
“We did state that we’d come back to the community with a plan, and need to be able to tell the story in the context of all history, not just slavery,” he said.
Council member Chuck Frye Jr. said he told council that the issue would be coming back after the International Coalition of Sites of Conscious gave its final report recently following nearly a year of community-wide discussions about the auction block’s fate. It found that people are still divided on the question of whether it should stay in its current location or be moved, but that everyone agreed the city needed to do a better job of telling the complete story of its African–American history.
“The community is waiting,” he said. “The NAACP came here four months ago and presented a petition to the council saying they wanted it moved.”
Council member Kerry Devine said the community was aware that the issue of what to do with the block would come back at some point, but the vote was really about two issues. One was its removal; the other was what should happen to it.
“We don’t have a plan for what to do with it,” she said.
Devine said the discussions prompted by ICSC enhanced her decision to have the auction block moved, but she worries that the city may be losing part of its history. She teaches history, and said people may not be aware that some textbooks refer to slavery as forced migration and the effects of slavery aren’t always mentioned.
“That’s an example of how things get lost in the mix,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to forget or sugarcoat things.”
Devine added that the ICSC report talked about the importance of historic spaces, and she hoped the plan would include some sort of marker telling the story of the auction block.
Council member Tim Duffy said that he has learned a lot through the community’s discussions about the auction block, and his views on what to do with it have changed. He said that he was also swayed by the ICSC report, which said it would be difficult to tell a more complete story about the auction block at its present location.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said she found the advice in Jon Meacham’s book, “The Soul of America,” to be pertinent in the discussions that have been held about the auction block since the issue of removing it arose two years ago.
She said he defines that first duties of an American citizen as becoming engaged, resisting tribalism, respecting facts and using reason, finding a critical balance and, above all, keeping history in mind.
“I truly believe we attempted to find a critical balance while, above all, keeping history in mind,” she said.
Greenlaw said she came to the conclusion that both history and the Fredericksburg community were better served by moving the auction block to the museum, and that the city’s memorials commission has been charged with organizing a committee to review the city’s history and assure that a better job is done of telling its whole story.