Fredericksburg officials are taking the first steps toward deciding a controversial auction block’s future.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and City Councilman Chuck Frye Jr. have met once with city staff to work on a plan for the block at the corner of William and Charles streets, where slave auctions were once held. A second meeting is scheduled, and the matter will be brought back to the council for further discussion and community input no later than Sept. 26.
There have been several efforts to remove the old stone block over the years. Most recently, there was a prayer vigil for healing, justice and racial reconciliation at that corner on Aug. 20. The Rev. Hashmel Turner prayed during the vigil that God would lead City Council to remove the auction block, calling it an “obstacle that brings remembrance of so much heartache, so much suffering and so much pain.”
City Council members also began receiving calls about the auction block, and a petition was posted on change.org calling for its removal. Another petition to keep the auction block intact was later posted on the same website, and an informal poll on fredericksburg.com, The Free Lance-Star’s website, showed overwhelming support for keeping the auction block in place.
Frye suggested creating the working group at the council’s Aug. 22 meeting after three people pressed during the public comment period to have the auction block moved to a museum and the spot replaced with a sign about its history—and how far Fredericksburg has come.
“The city has an exceptional record/reputation in working through the most challenging chapters in our American history, especially in the later parts of the 20th century,” according to a public notice on the city’s website, fredericksburgva.gov. “Most often we have proven to be a model for citizen engagement, civil discourse, and a place where the competition of ideas is embraced—and becomes the precursor to action.”
The notice added that there will be periodic updates about the auction block’s fate.