Less than a week after county resident Richard Allan was arrested and charged with two felonies for stealing Court Square’s modest slave auction block marker, The New York Times Magazine ran a new story from its 1619 Project on the issue of slave-sale sites nationwide, and how inadequately we commemorate the horrific tragedies that happened in these places.
As SUNY Binghamton professor Anne C. Bailey writes, “Family was one of the few bright spots in the long night of slavery, and the auction was the event that ripped enslaved families apart.”
The article notes that only a small percentage of these sites have been properly documented and preserved. “To look at some of these images,” Bailey writes of the accompanying photographs of slave-sale sites today, “is to grasp how invisible some of American history’s most grievous wounds have become.”
In Charlottesville, Allan’s theft galvanized ongoing discussions by the city’s Historic Resources Committee to create a more prominent slave auction memorial. And the county is hosting community conversations on the broader issue of how history is told in Court Square, which includes the county-owned monument to Confederate soldiers that dwarfed the city’s markers to Albemarle’s formerly enslaved majority.
These are positive steps, and Charlottesville has done better, more inclusive work than many other areas in Virginia in beginning to acknowledge its African American history. But whatever new memorials emerge, it will only be the beginning.
On Monday, Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the originator of the 1619 Project, came to Charlottesville for talks with UVA President Jim Ryan and journalist Jamelle Bouie, and said acknowledging the legacy of slavery is only the first step. “Courage is in the doing,” she said, in a call for universities to go beyond studying these issues and provide monetary reparations. “The courage is in trying to repair that damage.”