Virginia city removes slave auction block from its downtown corner
© Dovetail Cultural Resource Group

The city of Fredericksburg, Va., removed a slave auction block from a downtown corner last Friday after two years of discussions among city council. 

The 800-pound block was taken out of the ground after its removal was delayed by legal battles and the coronavirus shutdowns, according to the city’s website. The removal came as protests over police treatment of minorities and police brutality erupted in Fredericksburg and across the country over the past couple of weeks.

“This is the significant step in living City Council’s directive to relocate the historic artifact, and to work to better tell a more complete history of Fredericksburg – specifically its storied African American history,” the city’s press release read. 

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Local tradition, records and statements identify the stone as a location where slaves were sold. But the city’s website notes, “There is no direct quote noting that a slave stood on the block to be sold, but there are statements made in the post-Civil War years by African Americans stating they were sold on that corner.”

The block became a central point for protests over the police killing of George Floyd, with demonstrators chanting “Move the block!” The block had also been tagged with red, green and white spray paint during the days of the protests. 

City Councilor Charlie Frye first proposed removing the block after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., but the rest of the council voted to keep it.

The city then recruited the International Coalition Sites of Conscience to “assist in leading the next steps.” After the coalition released its findings, which did not specifically mention the block, Frye brought the removal back to the table, and the city council voted 6-1 to remove it in November.  

After the vote, two businesses filed a petition to keep the block, and the legal obstacles were eventually cleared on April 1, three weeks into Virginia’s stay-at-home order. The block was removed once the state entered the second phase of its reopening. 

The auction block’s removal also comes after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the state would remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond. Statues commemorating Confederate leaders have been targets for demonstrations, with several becoming defaced or toppled.