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Friday, April 26, 2024

Sometime this fall, city officials will install a state historical marker in Court Square to commemorate the slave trade that took place there from 1762 to 1865.

In this area, now downtown Charlottesville, traders held auctions to sell enslaved people. The auctions occurred at various sites: “Outside taverns, at the Jefferson Hotel, at the ‘Number Nothing' building, in front of the Albemarle Co. Courthouse (where sales were then recorded), and, according to tradition, from a tree stump,” the new sign will read. Here's more information about the marker:

After years of debate, Charlottesville chooses a new sign to commemorate Court Square slave trade

For decades, Charlottesville officials and private individuals commemorated this history with various small plaques and signs near Number Nothing Court Square. That building was historically a mercantile shop where slave auctions were regularly held. These older plaques marked a space where a “slave auction block” was said to sit, though current research calls into question whether there was ever an actual block there.

A black wooden sign says, "Site of Slave Block."

From the community

An aerial image of homes, trees and cars with text overlay that reads: "The Financial Resiliency Task Force is closing the wealth gap in our community." And orange button says: "Learn more" and two logos say "Envision, helping all families thrive" and "United Way of Greater Charlottesville"

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In the last few years, Charlottesville residents began to criticize these older signs, especially after officials considered removing the imposing Confederate monuments from Court Square and other nearby parks. Compared to those statues, the city-sanctioned slave auction plaque was too small and hard to read, some residents said. Another was embedded in a brick sidewalk so that people could walk over it — disrespectful, they said. Others said the language was outdated; “Site of Slave Block,” read one such sign.

Then, in early 2020, a Charlottesville man pried the sidewalk plaque from the ground and threw it into the Rivanna River. Richard Allan said his goal was to make the city install a better one. After that, someone put a laminated paper marker on the ground in its place. (You can read more about this incident in this C-VILLE Weekly article from February 2020.)

A brick sidewalk contains a paper marker. The original text reads, "Slave Auction Block: On this site slaves were bought and sold." Someone has crossed out both references to "slave" and replaced them with "human" and "people."

Installing a State Historical Marker does not mark the end of attempts to commemorate the site, Jeff Werner, Charlottesville's historic preservation and design planner, told reporter Erin O'Hare. He hopes that the descendants of any enslaved people auctioned in Court Square will eventually find their own way of commemorating the site.

“The committee does not want this marker to be seen as a substitute or placeholder for something more meaningful that might be developed through working with the descendant community,” he said.

Erin and I have been writing about memorials in Court Square for several years now. In case you missed them, I've compiled a few of the more poignant articles below:

Two people hug in front of a state historical marker.
Credit: Ézé Amos/Collectbritain

Lynching victim John Henry James receives ‘one little drop of justice’ 125 years after his death

July 14, 2023

A two story brick building sits at the corner of a brick street with brick sidewalks.
Credit: Mike Kropf/Collectbritain

What will happen to Charlottesville’s auction block site on which humans were bought and sold? That building is now for sale.

September 21, 2021

A bronze statue of a man on a horse is tied to a trailer and towed away as people gather along the road cheering.
Credit: Mike Kropf/Collectbritain

Charlottesville’s Confederate statues removed

July 10, 2021

A closeup of a stone monument with the inscription: "Confederate Soldiers defenders of the rights of the states."
Credit: Jessie Higgins/Collectbritain

Here are the (mostly Confederate) mementos in Johnny Reb’s time capsule

September 11, 2020

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a great weekend!
Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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April 16, 2024

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I'm Collectbritain's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at [email protected]! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a [email protected].