Sign of the times: Supes don’t take kindly to city plaque

Charlottesville wants to put a new sign up at the Albemarle County Circuit Court in Court Square. File photo Charlottesville wants to put a new sign up at the Albemarle County Circuit Court in Court Square. File photo

An item on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors consent agenda August 3 was to allow the city to put up a historic plaque in Court Square in front of the county’s courthouses. Only instead of rubberstamping the request, one supervisor took issue with the content, and others complained it was yet another missed opportunity for the city and county to work together.

Supervisor Rick Randolph asked for the resolution to be pulled from the agenda because he objected to a statement that the residents of Court Square often owned one or two slaves.

“Many moved to the outskirts of Charlottesville to Albemarle County,” he said at the meeting. “I felt like the narrative ended with slaves being slaves in the antebellum period, but where did they go after the Civil War? That’s a story that needs to be told.”

Some of the former slaves moved in the 1870s to communities just being discovered, like Hydraulic Mills or Lambs Road, Supervisor Ann Mallek pointed out.

Another wondered why a historical marker would go up while the city has a blue ribbon commission looking at race in memorials and public spaces.

And Supervisor Diantha McKeel wanted to know the backstory on whether any county staff had been involved with the text and if the city had even asked if it was okay to put the sign on county property. “I’m a little frustrated,” she said, “because time after time we have these missed opportunities when we ought to be working together instead of being blindsided.”

Note to city: The supes were also miffed they weren’t invited to the Hillsdale Drive meeting, according to a recording of the BOS meeting.

On the county side, assistant county exec Lee Catlin and deputy county exec Bill Letteri didn’t know how the issue got on the board’s agenda.

City preservation planner Mary Joy Scala shines light on the project and says at least one county staffer was involved from the county attorney’s office.

The Charlottesville Historic Resources Committee designed nine new markers to create a walking tour of Court Square to tell a more complete story of the history there, she says in an e-mail.

The markers will replace granite ones currently there with faded gold text, but the older slate markers “that everyone seems to like” will remain, she says. All the new signs will be 11″ x 17″, except for the one the city wants to plant on county property, which will be roughly 4′ x 5′.

The big sign replaces one that was put in front of the courthouses when Court Square was renovated in 2003, says Scala, and that marker replaced a large wooden one that was moved to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.

Because there’s no legal agreement between the city and county about such signage, that’s why it was on the county’s agenda, says Scala, a veteran of many City Council meetings, who did not attend the county meeting.

The city will pick up the tab for the new walking tour markers, which will likely exceed $5,000, Scala estimates.

Another controversial Court Square plaque is the one at the site of the slave auction block, which has come under fire for being on the ground and not terribly visible. The city’s historic resources committee was asked to replace an older slate one that had gone missing in 2013. “I know the Blue Ribbon Commission has been discussing the interpretation of this location as part of their agenda,” says Scala.

Meanwhile, the county still wants to have a say in how the history of Albemarle is told.

Says Letteri, “It may have been simply an oversight on the city’s part. They may not have thought about the county being involved.”

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