Opinions & Features June 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm

How an African-American led a campaign to have 176-year-old slave auction block removed

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

Michael Eli Dokosi June 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm

June 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Opinions & Features

The slave auction block via City of Fredericksburg and Charlie Chuck Frye, Jr. via fredericksburgva.gov

With the shift of power from blacks to whites in the 1400s, Caucasians embarked on a mission to amass resources including land, minerals and human labor. In the Western world, America led the industrial exercise and with wealth bellowed human rights, democracy and justice from the roof tops demanding same from other states.

Governments that were not in line were toppled. It became a global leader while others viewed it as a bully. However, in its backyard, African-Americans on whose back the country made its wealth were largely ignored or given crumbs and in Virginia, even calls to have a 176-year-old slave auction block removed was fiercely resisted by the white elements.

However, when the George Floyd protest erupted, the stone was sprayed with graffiti amid chants of “move the block.”

Eventually, the block which sat at the corner of William and Charles streets with a small, ground level, bronze plaque reading: “AUCTION BLOCK, Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property,” was removed by the City of Fredericksburg on Friday, June 5, 2020.

As early as 2017, a local NAACP chapter called for the block’s removal as it served as a symbol of racial oppression, others thought otherwise.

The 800-pound stone whose new home is the Fredericksburg Area Museum for 20 years is said to have been the marker where blacks were displayed and sold as slaves auctioned off to the highest bidder.

According to Fredericksburg historian John Hennessy: “The institution of slavery was central to the community prior to the Civil War,” adding “The trauma involved in that passed through generations. The block became an embodiment of the present and past pain in this community.”

The block’s removal is also a personal victory for Councilman Chuck Frye Jr., the only African-American on the City Council who proposed removing Fredericksburg’s slave auction block in 2017, but was outvoted at the city council.  

“I think racist folks loved it, historians understood it, and black people were intimidated,” the man whose father served in the United States Army stated.

The City Council meanwhile hired a non-profit — the International Coalition Sites of Conscience (ICSC) – which helped the city engage the community in conversations about the auction block and historical events of injustice and racial biases. Hundreds of City residents participated in the ensuing year-long community collaboration process led by the ICSC and City leaders.

After the ICSC report, Frye once again brought his proposal to remove the stone and this time around the City Council voted 6-1 to approve its removal.

Two local businesses filed a petition to keep the auction block in place. The legal obstacles were finally cleared on April 1 but the coronavirus pandemic meant it became safe to remove it in June.

Slave Auction Block, Fredericksburg, Virginia via Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Frye’s determined campaign also underlines the need for ethnic representation on critical boards, city council and other such platform. It’s almost certain that had there been no black person in this case, the first vote against the removal of the slave era symbol would have stood further causing psychological pain and trauma for the African-Americans in the community.

As a community member put it: “It reminds us of a time when we were mistreated, we were property, we weren’t considered human beings, we weren’t equal.”

Conversations

Must Read