Slave Auction Block Stirs Mixed Emotions in Fredericksburg

A tiny historic site is the subject of a renewed controversy in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in light of violent white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville.

Some residents are pushing for the city to remove a slave auction block that sits in the middle of downtown, while others say it's an important reminder of history.

"I've had painful reflections of it in times past," said Rev. Hashmel Turner.

Turner said he usually tries to avoid walking near the concrete block that, from a distance, resembles a tree stump.

A small plaque in front of it reads, "Fredericksburg's Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property." It's one of the dozens of historic sites mentioned in Fredericksburg's trolley tour.

"They kept the slaves in pens in the basement of the hotel, brought them out here and put them up on the block and they were sold to the highest bidder," a trolley guide said.

But Turner is supporting the new push to have the block removed and put in a museum.

"That is my desire to have it gone. I don't need a reminder. And I wouldn't think those who enslaved our people would want a constant reminder of what they did to us," Turner said.

Emotions stirred by the violence in Charlottesville has others questioning the future of the block. About 100 faith leaders and residents gathered at the block in August to pray about their concerns.

"I thought it was a tragic reminder of our history here in Virginia, and I believe that it's right and good that we would be having this discussion right now, in this moment," said David Bradshaw, pastor for Awakening Community Church.

But in a city steeped in history and historic preservation, others argue the auction block inspires important conversation.

"If it goes to a museum you have preserved it, but only the people who go to the museum will talk bout it," said Tighten Scott Walker, with the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.

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