Slave Auction Block
It is often said that the City of Fredericksburg is a microcosm of the American story, the good and bad. The City has an exceptional record and reputation in working through the most challenging chapters in our American history, especially in the later parts of the 20th Century. 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.
Council Moves Forward on Auction Block Preservation, Interpretation
On June 11, 2019, the Council voted 6-1 in favor of moving the slave auction block from its current location at the corner of William and Charles Street to the Fredericksburg Area Museum. This decision by Council followed the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience Final Report. This report, the final of three phases of community engagement work in the City conducted throughout 2018, was received by Council in March 2019.
Where did this discussion begin? The City had a lengthy community dialogue in 2017 about the slave auction block. Councilor Frye placed the topic on the City Council agenda for August 22, 2017 following the previous Sunday night, when a group of about 100 people had gathered downtown to pray for reconciliation and healing, at the site of the stone block. The Council directed staff to engage the community about the future of the slave auction block. See News release and more details below.
On May 14, 2019, Council accepted the final ISCS Report, and requested that the Memorials Advisory Commission be tasked to work to tell a more complete City story (which includes a review of City related tourism printed/online material, scripts, signage and to make recommendations as to how the story is told moving forward at Charles and Williams Streets). Community groups such as the NAACP, NPS, HFFI, UMW, Museum Council, City staff, among others, will be included as Council now takes steps to put the ICSC recommendations into place.
Staff has been directed to prepare a plan for removal of the auction block and to execute removal by the end of this calendar year. The Fredericksburg Area Museum has agreed to accept the slave auction block and is coordinating on logistics, and planning interpretation now. The Memorials Advisory Commission is already on task and working though materials delivered to them at their meeting on June 5, 2019.Their work is likely to take several years to accomplish.
History of Process Since 2017
There is not perfect certainty as to the history of the stone that we refer to as the slave auction block, and this must be acknowledged from the start. In 2010, John Hennessy, Chief Historian of the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park, published a three-part article (see below) that explores the known history of this "block of stone," which is generally regarded as authoritative from a historical standpoint.
Today, the block remains at the corner of William and Charles Streets, a busy downtown commercial corner. Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc., installed a small, ground level, bronze plaque in 1984, reading: "AUCTION BLOCK, Fredericksburg's Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property."
It is important to recognize that the City Council decision-making process, specific to the future of the auction block, has been taking place within the larger context of a community dialogue about race, history, and memory. The residents have been integral to these discussions since 2017 and Council’s actions have sought to reflect the voice of our community. This is further reflected in City Council's 2036 Vision Statement, Sharing Our Past, Embracing Our Future: The people of Fredericksburg are building a 21st century urban center on the foundation of this historic city at the fall line of the Rappahannock River. Fredericksburg is the hub of regional economic activity, a city with a multicultural population and thriving cultural scene, a place that works for everyone, a community where the people are writing the next chapters of Fredericksburg’s history. City Council wanted to ensure that the decision-making process for the slave auction block location takes place within the larger context of a community dialogue about race, history, and memory. The community dialogue began, and it should continue, with leadership from the local religious community, business community, historians, academic institutions, and the local Black community and institutions. City Council members wish to support this larger conversation and to participate in it.
Community Survey and Public Forums 2017
In September 2017 online input was gathered on two options on the future of the slave auction block - for it to remain in place option A, or for it to be removed, option B. Here is the summary of the 602 responses to the questions. Public Comment Summary (PDF)
Council held a public forum on Saturday, September 23, 2017 for citizens to speak about the two options. Twenty-six citizens spoke at the forum. Approximately 100 people attended.
Community Collaboration Sessions and Reports 2018-2019
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience led Phase 1 sessions were held during April and May 2018 with 140 individuals participating in small focus group settings. Staff from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience gathered the stories that the community is currently telling about African American History and the slave auction block and how community members felt about those stories. The Phase 1 public report (PDF) details major themes extracted from the interviews and focus groups.
Community Collaboration Brochure (PDF) - mailed to every household in 22401 in early July 2018 informing residents of the upcoming community discussions.
Community collaboration continued in Phase 2 with a focus more specifically on the slave auction block through a series of public brainstorming sessions. Round 1 occurred on August 23 and 24 with several sessions at The Walker-Grant Center, at 210 Ferdinand Street. These sessions focused on reviewing the findings from the Phase 1 report (PDF) and what the reinterpretation of the slave auction block may look like based on these findings. Round 2 discussions occurred on September 24 and 25 with several sessions at Walker Grant Center. These sessions focused on a design and signage conversation and review of concepts. The Phase 2 report (PDF) was published in December 2018.
Phase 3 discussions occurred on October 23 and 24, November 13 and 14 and December 12 and 13 with all meetings occurring at the downtown Fredericksburg Library at 1201 Caroline Street. Topics were the following for October: Telling the Whole Story; for November: Creating Reflection and Connecting Past to Present; and for December: Education and Next Steps. These discussions delved deeper into topics that were heard during the first two phases including ways in which people talk about all facets of our history. The Phase 3 Final Report was released on March 13, 2019 at a special meeting of Council.
If you have any questions please contact:
Fredericksburg City Manager, Tim Baroody
Email Tim Baroody