SLAVE AUCTION BLOCK

Fredericksburg City Council asks the Fredericksburg Circuit Court to dismiss the Slave Auction Block lawsuit

 

December 30, 2019 – Fredericksburg City Attorney Kathleen Dooley filed the City Council’s response to the petition filed by E.D. Cole Building, L.L.C. and Local Holdings, L.L.C., in the Fredericksburg Circuit Court. The petition alleged that only the Architectural Review Board could order the relocation of the slave auction block, and that the City Council had no legal authority to approve a certificate of appropriateness under the City’s zoning ordinance.

The City Council filed an “Answer” generally denying erroneous allegations in the Petition, and a “Motion for Summary Judgment,” (see also Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgement) which asks the Circuit Court to decide the matter on the basis of the public record and controlling law. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that ARB decisions may be appealed to City Council, and “final decisions” of the City Council may be appealed to Circuit Court. Petitioners relied on one subsection of City Code (§72-23.1(D)(3)), but they either overlooked or ignored a following subsection (§72-23.1(F)(1)), which grants City Council authority to hear and decide appeals of ARB decisions. See illustration of omission in this Chart of Missing Subsection (PDF).

The relocation plan approved by City Council calls for Public Works crews to undertake the removal of the block from the public right of way under the supervision of professional archaeologists. After removal and cleaning, the auction block will go on display at the Fredericksburg Area Museum, which re-opens to the public on March 1, 2020. City Council has directed the City Attorney to bring the lawsuit to a successful conclusion as soon as reasonably possible. No hearing date is scheduled at this time.

For more information on the three-year history of Council’s decision to relocate the block please read more below.

Please feel free to contact the City Manager’s office directly at 540-372-1010 with questions or concerns.

Appeal Filed Against Moving the Slave Auction Block

December 13, 2019 – E.D. Cole Building, L.L.C. and Local Holdings, L.L.C. filed a petition in the Fredericksburg Circuit Court on December 10, 2019, appealing City Council’s November 12, 2019 adoption of Resolution 19-100, “Granting a Certificate of Appropriateness for the Relocation of the Slave Auction Block to the Fredericksburg Area Museum.” The filing of the petition stayed the effect of the Resolution, effectively blocking the City’s plans to remove the slave auction block from the corner of Charles and William Streets until the case can be resolved through the courts.

E.D. Cole Building, L.L.C is the owner of the commercial building across the street of the slave auction block at 402 William Street. Local Holdings, L.L.C. is the owner of the Olde Towne Butcher shop and The Butcher’s Table restaurant at 401 William Street. The petitioners allege that they will lose business income from what they predict will be a decline in foot traffic and a decline in tourist visits to the corner after the stone auction block is removed. Their petition argues that City Council had no legal authority to order the relocation of the slave auction block, and that only the Architectural Review Board could undertake this action.

The approved plan for relocation of the stone auction block called for its removal by Public Works crews under the supervision of the professional archaeologists of Dovetail Cultural Resources, the cleaning of the stone with water and mild detergents at a City facility, and then, after the stone had fully dried, its transport by Public Works crews to the River Gallery of the Fredericksburg Area Museum for display to the public. The Public Works Department had constructed a custom pallet to accomplish this move. The museum is closed to the public during January and February 2020 for its annual reconfiguration of exhibits, and then re-opens to the public on March 1.

The plan called for interpretation of the block site after relocation to occur in several phases. Under Phase 1, at the time of the block’s removal, a medallion approximately the same diameter as the block will be placed in the sidewalk to mark the location. The medallion will be level with the sidewalk. Additionally, a wayside panel will be placed at the block site.

In Phase 1A, the City will complete infrastructure improvements, including sidewalk bump-outs at each of the four corners of the intersection. This effort will result in an expansion of the sidewalk surface and narrowing of pedestrian crossings, improving the safety of the site and allowing more space for Phase 2 interpretation efforts. The Memorials Advisory Commission is leading a process to design permanent interpretive materials for the site, part of their initiative to help the City “tell the whole story” of African American history in Fredericksburg.

“The City Council’s decision to relocate the slave auction block was made after 18 months of public input sessions, including the year-long community collaboration project led by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Hundreds of residents participated in this effort, sharing their personal experiences and perspectives,” said Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw. Mayor Greenlaw concluded her statement, saying, “City Council has directed the City Attorney to vigorously defend this action, and to bring it to a successful conclusion as soon as reasonably possible.”

Read full the lawsuit filed December 10, 2019: Petition at Law for Declaratory Judgment.

Council Moves Forward on Auction Block Preservation, Interpretation

The City Council voted on June 11, 2019 to relocate the block from its original location at the northwest corner of Charles and William Streets to the Fredericksburg Area Museum. As the block is an historic object located within the City’s local historic district overlay, a certificate of appropriateness (COA) must be granted for removal from the original site. The Architectural Review Board received an application for a certificate of appropriateness to relocate the Slave Auction Block from its original site to the FAM on July 22, 2019. The Architectural Review Board initially considered the application in a public hearing on August 12, 2019. At that time, the Board did not take action due to concerns over the procedure for an application predicated on a vote of action by the City Council.

At the September 9, 2019 meeting of the ARB, the City Attorney requested a work session with the ARB to continue discussion and seek consultation on the proposed action. The work session was held on September 23 and, at that time, the City Attorney gave a brief presentation providing background on the City Council’s process since 2017, including the extensive community outreach conducted in partnership with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and a number of considerations for the ARB. A thorough discussion was held regarding Board members’ individual views on the matter, the relevant criteria contained in the City Code, and possible courses of action.

At the October 14, 2019 ARB meeting, a motion to deny the relocation was made, but failed with a vote of two in favor, one opposed, three abstentions and one disqualification under COIA. No other motion or vote took place, so the ARB took no action on the application. Public comment was received at all four meetings of the ARB that included this topic. City Code §72-23.1(C)(5) states that the ARB shall act within 90 days of the official submission of the application. As no action was taken, the application was transmitted to the City Council for a decision on appeal.

The City Council voted on November 12, 2019 to approve the COA for Relocation of the Slave Auction Block, as well as approval of the Plan for Relocation and the Loan Agreement to the Fredericksburg Area Museum.

These decisions 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.

Draft Concept Rendering Phase 1A Near-Term Design November 2019Future Site Interpretation

Interpretation of the block site after relocation is proposed to occur in several phases:

  1. Phase 1 – complete by December 31, 2019
  2. Phase 1A – complete by July 1, 2020
  3. Phase 2 – complete in approximately one to two years

Permanent interpretation of the block site will be developed through the efforts of the Memorials Advisory Commission and will take some time to design. This Phase 2 design work is part of an extensive collaborative process that builds on the work of the ICSC and will include many community stakeholders, as well as a liaison from the ARB and technical assistance from the National Park Service. The Phase 1 design is intended to mark the location of the block in the interim and improve the infrastructure (Phase 1A) of the site.

Phase 1: At the time of the block’s removal, a bronze medallion approximately the same diameter as the block will be placed in the sidewalk to mark the location. This medallion will be level with the sidewalk surface and its surface will be blank, allowing for inscription, reuse, or replacement later. Additionally, a wayside panel will be placed at the block site. The panel will be the same design as those throughout the downtown so that it can be reused after the permanent interpretive materials are installed. The panel itself will highlight some aspects of the site’s history and describe the current process in which the City is engaged. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but to ensure that the site remains visible and that information is readily available to the public. This work is planned for December 2019.

Phase 1A: By the end of the fiscal year, the City will complete infrastructure improvements that include creating sidewalk bump-outs at each of the four corners of the intersection. This effort will result in an expansion of the sidewalk surface and narrowing of the pedestrian crossings, improving the safety of the site and allowing more space for the Phase 2 interpretation efforts.

Phase 2: Within the next two years, the Memorials Advisory Commission will oversee a process to design permanent interpretive materials for this site.

Future Display at the Fredericksburg Area Museum

The auction block will be relocated two blocks from it’s current location to the Fredericksburg Area Museum for purposes of display to the public in a museum exhibit located in the “River Gallery.” FAM has agreed to continue to provide opportunities for free admission and after-hours access to the exhibit. They plan to engage a professional in the field of museum interpretation and design to ensure the final exhibit meets accepted standards for scholarship, accessibility, and design, as well as seek and consider input on exhibit content and design from the Fredericksburg Memorials Advisory Commission and other community organizations as appropriate. The museum display will maintain the association of the block and the larger Planter’s Hotel site at 401-405 William Street.

Community Dialogue About the Auction Block from 2017 – 2019

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.

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.

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.

On September 26, 2017 Council voted to keep the slave block at its current location, by adopting option A, and to focus on better telling a more complete history of Fredericksburg. To help accomplish this, the City engaged the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to assist in leading the next discussions in three phases of community collaboration sessions. 

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. 

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 takes steps to put the ICSC recommendations into place.

On June 11, 2019, the City of Fredericksburg Council voted 6-1 in favor of moving the slave auction block from its current location at the corner of William and Charles Streets to the Fredericksburg Area Museum. Staff was directed to prepare a plan for removal of the auction block and to execute removal by the end of the 2019 calendar year. The Fredericksburg Area Museum agreed to accept the slave auction block, including coordinating logistics and planning interpretation. The Memorials Advisory Commission began 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 Auction Block

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.

Slave trading block close upSlave block wide shot

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.”

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 African American community and institutions. City Council members wish to support this larger conversation and to participate in it.

If you have any questions please contact:

Fredericksburg City Manager, Tim Baroody

P.O., Box 7447 Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540) 372-1010

Email Tim Baroody